Dania Vizzi was a Juilliard-bound dancer until she did a 180 and set her sights on becoming a world-class skeet shooter.
STORY BY BARRY WISE SMITH
1) When did you start shooting, and who got you started?
I actually started as a competitive dancer. Like most little girls, my mom put me in dance class when I was two. I started competing at five. I loved dance and thought it would be my career. It was always my dream to go to Juilliard for college and become a professional dancer.
Then I started shooting at 16. My dad got me started—he hunted with his brother and dabbled in shooting sports. When I was 13, he took me shooting with him, and we rented this huge gun at the club. It was giant, and I was a really small 13 year old. I shot it twice, and I cried. I told my dad I was never going to do it again! I hated it. Then, three years later when I was 16, he decided we should try it again, and he had a smaller gun for me. We went, and that’s when I fell in love with it. So I was shooting but not really competing.
That summer, I was one of 32 kids from around the world chosen to go to Juilliard for their summer program—and while I was in New York that summer, I didn’t have anywhere to shoot, and I found myself missing it. I came back home and quit dancing and started my shooting career. I started shooting and fell in love with it and enjoyed that life more than I enjoyed my dance life. It was like a full 180 for me. I went from super girly to male dominated.
2) When did you start shooting competitively?
I started out shooting American Trap—I think most people start with that. I got really good really fast. I was making perfect scores within the first month. I had some friends at the Silver Dollar Shooters Club who suggested I try skeet shooting. I started shooting American Skeet, and I fell in love with it. At this time, I didn’t even know that shooting was an Olympic sport. I just thought it was something fun to do. But there was a coach at the gun club and he told me he thought I was really good and could be great. He suggested I try International Skeet. I went to my first international match about a month later. It was Nationals in Colorado Springs, and I actually won my division.
I just really loved the sport and the way it was judged. In dance, I had always been judged on my appearance, but in shooting you either hit or miss the target, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. One of the beauties of shooting is not having to have a specific body type. You can be short or tall, and it doesn’t matter. When I started shooting, I benefitted from having learned discipline at a young age, and I already had competition experience from dance. I never went through those awkward moments of being really nervous about competing. I just had to learn the sport itself.
3) You’re a member of Team USA—when did you join the team and how did that come about?
The year after I went to Nationals, I went to the Junior Olympics, and if you placed one or two at the Junior Olympics, you made the Junior National Team. So I made the Junior National Team, which was huge for me. That same year, I went to my first Junior World Championships, and I got a silver medal. The next year when I was 18, I placed third at Nationals and made Team USA.
4) Have you had the chance to compete at the Olympics yet?
Not yet, I went to Rio in 2016 as a marketing intern so I got to experience everything but not as an athlete. That was my first Olympics to get to compete for a spot on the team. Being there made me even more fired up to make the team and compete..
5) The pandemic clearly changed the Olympics plan. You’re still on Team USA. Do you still want to compete at the Olympics?
Yes I plan to compete for a spot on the team that will go to Paris in 2024.
6) You have amassed quite a collection of hardware—tell me about some of your biggest wins. And where do you keep your medals?
I won the gold medal at the World Championships in 2017. For shooting, the Worlds are more difficult than the Olympics because you’re competing against over 400 world-class athletes, and at the Olympics it’s around 30. In 2017, I won the individual gold, and the team won gold. I also won a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games in Peru in 2019, which was a big deal for me. Total, I’ve won four individual medals at World Championships. I have a gun rack that my cousin made for me, and my medals hang on it.
7) What do you most enjoy about shooting?
Everything! But one of the things I’m most grateful for is the opportunity I’ve had to travel the world and see the places I’ve been able to see.
8) I’ve seen hunting pictures on your Instagram? Have you always hunted and what do you prefer to hunt?
I didn’t start hunting until a couple of years ago when Brownells, who’s a sponsor, had a girls’ trip. It was so much fun! It was a pheasant hunt. My most memorable trophy is from that trip when I shot my first pheasant. I was so proud of it, I have it mounted in my living room. And because it was for a promo, I have it on video so I can relive it any time I want. I was so excited, I facetimed my dad from the field. He thought I was crying, but I was just so excited. I love hunting with my dad—we try to go at least once a year. I have such an instinct from shooting skeet that it translated to hunting birds—it comes easy for me.
9) What’s your favorite gun to shoot, and what’s on your wish list?
My Perazzi shotgun is my favorite because I use it for competition and hunting. It goes everywhere. And my first gun that was just for me. I can’t use it anymore because it’s so small. My dream gun is something that’s fully automatic. A fully automatic gun is the definition of my dream gun!
10) When you’re not shooting or competing, what do you like to do?
If I’m not competing, I’m a homebody. I like to be at home, and I love to cook with my mom. And drink a glass of wine while we do it!