UAF offered the perfect combination for Haley Castillo: a homeland security bachelor’s degree program, courses in aircraft piloting and a top-ranked rifle team. So the young woman from New Mexico headed north.
Castillo started shooting as a freshman with her high school team in Albuquerque.
“I’d never touched a gun before,” she said. Now she’s on UAF’s squad, which has won 10 NCAA championships and produced several Olympians over the years.
“I like the challenge of trying to keep myself focused, and I like to work hard,” Castillo said of shooting.
When she entered high school, her mom said she had to do a sport.
“I’d wanted to be in the Air Force for a while, so I joined [ROTC],” she said. “They said we had to do drill, or we had to do shooting. I had two left feet, so I got into the summer shooting program, and I was good at it.”
Castillo’s days at UAF begin early with a practice and a workout at the Patty Center. After classes, she returns to the range. Team members practice a minimum of 16 hours per week and work out for at least four.
In high school, Castillo mostly shot rifles powered with compressed air. At UAF, she’s added small-bore .22-caliber rifles, which fire cartridges.
Competitions in each category require 60 shots. In small-bore shooting, those are evenly divided into standing, kneeling and prone positions.
Castillo said her fellow shooters helped fix her kneeling shot position.
“Now I just need to work on all the mental stuff, the mental game — being able to focus for that many shots and have the same mindset every single time and not get distracted,” she said.
Since arriving at UAF, Castillo has put piloting on the back burner but is happy with her homeland security studies.
“It’s what I want to do with my career,” she said. “I don’t want to be stuck in an office. I want to go out and help people.”