Ten years ago I was newlywed woman working a pretty awesome job at an education center managing a science and mathematics testing database and spending hundreds of thousands of tax-payers dollars in regards to continued education for teachers and curriculum for the great state of Pennsylvania. I had just finished writing my first (and to date, only) novel and I was seriously considering pursuing a career as a secondary mathematics teacher. I showed promise to that end and had people who were encouraging me to follow that direction.

I carried a gun but I didn’t work in firearms and really never intended to do so. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my future but, to date, the most I’d done with a gun was go to the range and shoot. I hadn’t even taken any official classes (PA did not have a training requirement to carry) and had been carrying for less than a year.

I was, and still am, a logical person. I knew that getting a gun for self-defense did not mean that I was suddenly a master and I determined I would only carry it if I got professional training, continued to get training, practiced regularly and was given the freedom to purchase my own gun.

Having purchased my own gun, with my first class scheduled, I found myself taking frequent trips to an indoor range to practice. They had a lady’s night where the range fee was waived for women and because my husband traveled frequently in our early marriage there wasn’t much to do with my time but wander the local grocery store looking for oddball cheese (I love cheese) go to the movies or go shoot. I had to conquer my fear of going to the range by myself, but after that was done I was off to the range every week by myself.

The staff there was respectful, knowledgeable and kind and I enjoyed talking to and learning from all of them. I enjoyed engaging in conversation with them and got to know all of them, well.

One of the managers was a skinny, young guy named Stanley Fanelli. And on a particular night on my way out of the range he asked me a question that changed the course of my future.

“Do you want a job?”

I didn’t want a job. I didn’t need a job. I was making more money part-time with more flexibility and benefits than a many make full time.

I was happy and I was woefully under-qualified for the job. My firearms experience was limited to weekly range sessions with no real instruction. My only credential was my carry permit. I struggled with my shooting and outside of the 1911 knew almost nothing about guns.

I told him as much and his response was, “Don’t worry about that. If you’re willing to learn, we’ll teach you. But you’re here all the time and seem to have a passion for it and we could use a woman like you.”

So I took home an application, filled it out and took it back to the range with me a few days later. I got free range time for myself and my husband, free targets and a few boxes of free ammo as long as I was shooting rental guns. And I got paid hourly to do it. There was no downside.

From day one, I loved that job. Because I was still working in education during the day I was limited to working evenings and weekends at the gun store and range which meant a lot of dealing with customers. Any free time we had usually started with Stan asking, “Hey, do you want to learn something?”

My answer was always, “Yes!”

He taught me how to mount a scope and about checking the timing on a revolver. He taught me how to take apart almost every gun on the shelves and gave me hours on range duty so that I could watch shooters and clean range guns–a valuable time to learn about how the innards of many handguns functioned. Any used firearm that was bought was tested and he allowed me to do the test firing. When it was particularly dead he would allow me to duck into the range for a little trigger time and gave me pointers when I came out as did the other instructors on staff. Stan was also deliberate in making sure I was present for any and all learning experiences with all manner of firearms. He was also the first person who suggested I go on to get some sort of instructor credentials.

Eventually, he asked me if I would be willing to go full time.

Long story made short, I left the path of education, dived head first into guns and training and never really looked back. There have been some distractions through the years, particularly when the babies started coming along but no matter what I do or get interested in I always find myself coming back to guns and self defense. The work is challenging, fun and meaningful, the people are great and toys are cool. And I owe a majority of my little part of it to Stan.

I was fortunate to run across a man who was willing to take me on as his project but knowledgeable enough not to fill my head with crap information, secure enough in his own ego not to try to make me his fan girl and encouraging enough to remind me there was nothing I couldn’t do if I was willing to learn and work hard.

If the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step Stan was the person who asked me to start moving my feet. Thank you, Stan. I’m still traveling.