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September 20, 2022

Taking ‘I Can’t’ to ‘I Can’: Resilience at Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit 2022

By Matt Manda

The 2022 Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit (ADSS) is an accessible shooting event for people with disabilities of all skill levels and knowledge of firearms that features both training with world-class instructors and IDPA-style pistol competition.

Carey McWilliams has been legally blind since he was 10 years old. He also became the first legally blind person in the United States to obtain a concealed carry permit when he did so in 2000.

Hal Spiegel suffered a horse-riding accident and is a C7 quadriplegic. He has difficulty grasping objects, so he cast his own thermoplastic wrist splint to help him hold, aim and shoot his handgun.

Jeff Denholm was a merchant marine, commercial fisherman and now operates a firefighter training business and contracts his crews to help fight wildfires, splitting his time between Hawaii and California. Jeff has a prosthetic arm. It’s a dangerous job and he wants to be a better pistol shooter for when he’s on duty.

All three turned their own situation into opportunity and joined dozens more in Epping, N.H., for the 2022 ADSS Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit at the SIG Sauer Academy. It was great company.

Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit 2022
Jeff Denholm, California, attended ADSS for the first time and took some pointers from Rick Cicero at the SIG Sauer Academy shooting range.

From Can’t to Can

Firearms and firearm instruction are in Rick Cicero’s DNA. His dad was a firearms instructor and Rick passed his first marksmanship certification and training course at 12 years old. He’s spent his life responsibly handling and shooting guns. He’s now a retired U.S. Army master sergeant and continues with firearms instruction.

But he lost his right arm and leg in an explosion when serving in Afghanistan 12 years ago. The current mission with ADSS is even more personal to him.

Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit 2022
Rick Cicero speaks to 2022 ADSS attendees outside the SIG Sauer Academy. Cicero also gave one-on-one guidance to adaptive ability shooters at the range.

Cicero knows how to coach people with adaptive abilities and build confidence in them to use firearms, whether new or experienced.

“I love to break the ‘I can’t’ mindset with people. It’s a long list but it’s about getting them to realize they can,” Cicero said after a range session with ADSS participants. “Recoil management. That is the most important thing especially for one-handed shooters. It’s about building a strong base, understanding it and adding to it. That’s all it is.”

Cicero commented it’s the same good feeling each year – now his fourth leading the ADSS summit – to see familiar faces and new ones.

Shooting’s Different When You’re Blind

McWilliams, from Fargo, N.D., has now qualified and possesses an advanced permit that’s valid in 40 states. This was his first ADSS shooting summit.

“When you’re blind, you have to put a whole different spin on your shooting. It’s like military artillery fire in the dark. You’re trying to hit a target that nobody can see from where you are and somebody has to tell you where that shell is going,” McWilliams said. “To be able to come and shoot a match means a lot, especially when you’re here among your peers. So many blind people get excluded from doing different things either by their own, saying ‘I can’t do this,’ or by other people saying ‘You can’t do this.’”

Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit 2022
Carey McWilliams was the first legally blind person in the United States to get his concealed carry permit. He attended the ADSS competition for the first time and took some pointers from Rick Cicero and Jared Gould.

Cicero was a natural coach for Carey during the three-day shooting summit. It wasn’t just Cicero adding his expertise. McWilliams had other guidance. Jared Gould is legally blind – he’s participated in ADSS before and is now an instructor for new and returning shooters. Gould has hit a long-distance competitive shot of over 1,000 yards and echoed Cicero’s mantra back to McWilliams while at the range. Of his own recovery, Gould told McWilliams what he himself told his doctors. “I said, ‘I’m going to fight. You’re gonna fix me. And I’m going to do this.’ There’s nothing better than coming back here again and seeing new participants,” Gould added, with a small smile.

Ingenuity Beats Limitation

When someone is a C7 quadriplegic, they might be told “You can’t do that” fairly often. That’s not acceptable for Dallas native Hal Spiegel. He used to play wheelchair rugby and was adamant he wasn’t giving up shooting.

“I’m from south Texas and have been in a wheelchair now for 46 years,” Spiegel said. “Even before my accident I was into hunting and fishing – that’s just the nature of south Texas. My doctor said I couldn’t shoot my .308 anymore because it’d re-damage my neck. That wasn’t good enough. We’ve built a bunch of adaptive braces to see what works and I started doing more pistol shooting.”

Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit 2022
Hal Spiegel cast his own thermoplastic wrist splint to attach to his firearm to give himself better stability when firing. He attended last year’s ADSS competition and came back with improvements.

That includes molding his own thermoplastic hand splint to help him grip and hold his handgun. This was his second year at ADSS and he improved on last year’s attendance.

“I made a list of all the issues I had last year – in fact my wife took videos of me – and we calculated how we could knock off seconds here and seconds there for this year,” he explained.

Spiegel was in line for fierce competition but he was most looking forward to something more long-lasting.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ve made a lot of really cool friends, like Bill here, and it’s just getting with everybody,” Hal said to me at lunch. “But it’s also going to be neat to see how well all the improvements I’ve made will impact the competition. It’s not about the highest level, but to compete with yourself is what I enjoy.”

Spiegel had no shortage of words to describe Cicero’s involvement and leadership at ADSS, welcoming and coaching all participants.

“The guy’s phenomenal. I met him last year and didn’t know his background. I left the competition and then read his profile – Oh my God, that guy’s been through hell and back.” Spiegel headed off to the afternoon session, but turned around quickly to add, “For him to come out and do what he does, it’s just totally impressive. He’s a phenomenal human being.”

Seeing his thermoplastic hand splint and how he placed the shot grouping after one of Hal’s practice rounds was nothing short of phenomenal on its own.

Get ‘Em Out

Cicero not only coaches up shooters and competitors for the weekend, but also uses the days before to evaluate and coach up instructors who will help with the matches. Several of this year’s instructors were returners and it was easy to see why.

“The best thing about the Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit is seeing people come out and getting out of their comfort zone that they normally can’t do and then see them achieve success in a group setting,” said Keith Hutchinson, a police officer-by-day and instructor in free time from Tampa. “Just watching the camaraderie that goes on behind the firing line is probably the best part for me.”

Hutchinson and other instructors are constantly watching participants, giving instruction and also reinforcement that they’re succeeding. It builds and builds, which is what Cicero means when he says it’s foundational – that goes for skill and also mentality.

Hutchinson added, “There’s the added benefit that we’re helping people defend themselves. But the reality is that we’re also getting a bunch of people out of their houses and out of their potential depression zones and in a group setting enjoying firearms and the sport and competition together.”

Growth and Expansion

The success of this year’s ADSS competition exceeded expectations and the momentum of success is carrying through. Not only was Cicero training more of his own instructors, but he also was giving guidance to instructor-trainees to go back home and host regional competitions next year in cities across the country.

Chad Barber is an ADSS instructor but is also now the match coordinator and event director for ADSS events and also at SIG Sauer Academy.

“It’s amazing to see the growth. We’re constantly planning on how to expand and get more people involved because they are contacting us about participation,” Barber said.

Several instructors were getting Cicero’s best guidance and watching him closely in order to take that knowledge home and host regional ADSS competitions nationwide, before the championships return to Epping, N.H., next year. “That’s the plan, at least,” Barber added with a laugh.

Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit 2022
More than 50 participants attended the 2022 ADSS Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit at the SIG Sauer Academy in Epping, N.H., for this year’s summit. It’s likely to expand and include regional summit competitions next year.

Growth is good and ADSS is certainly breaking through. Next year’s competition promises to have record-breaking attendance and that participation breeds confidence, one shooter at a time.

The Second Amendment is for everyone and Cicero summed up the success of the 2022 Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit by saying, “To see the faces change from morning to afternoon when we’re done, even with the first day – that’s something.”

Find out more about the Adaptive Defensive Shooting Summit, and for information about next year’s event when available, click, visit

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