November 26, 2022 6 min read 11 Comments
By Ray Glier
You have to know Nick Cipollino’s story to understand how the man is still entering shooting competitions at 90 years old. It seems preposterous, so you need context, some familiarity with him to help reconcile his norm-defying crusade against aging.
Nick was 80 in 2012 when he started shooting in the Huntsman World Senior Games. He has won 64 gold medals in 10 years. Some recent events he did not have any competition because he has simply outlived other marksmen, but Nick has 20-20 vision in his left eye, 20-30 with a touch of glaucoma in his right eye, and still holds his own vs. the scorecard.
Nick is a freak physically, a lot of Geezer Jocks winning at 80-90 years old are like that. The rest of us can’t replicate his eyesight and hand-eye coordination and the steadiness of his grip, but we can identify with his resilience because we might have come face-to-face with similar challenges...and they have not been too big for us.
“What keeps me going?,” said Nick, who lives comfortably in Washington, Utah, with his friend, Carol West. “I was born into a very, very poor family. Start with that.”
You actually have to start sooner than that.
Nick Cipollino’s parents came over on “the boat”, immigrants from Sicily in 1918 when his mom, Margaret, was 12 and his dad, Ignazio Ricardo, was 9. They met as kids as they sailed for Ellis Island and were friends first, then married.
Margaret and Ricardo started from scratch in Brooklyn. They had to navigate the Irish cops who ruled all but the rats. They had to wrestle with the poverty of the city that was endemic for new arrivals.
Soon, the Cipollinos had four kids in tow with Nick born in 1932. Nick’s grandfather, who taught himself English on the boat on the way to America, was so grateful to be out of the dictator Mussolini’s Italy and so proud to be an American, he sang the U.S. National Anthem every night before dinner twice, once in Italian and then English.
This is some of the background you need to know to understand Nick Cipollino’s occasional outrageousness, slapstick personality, and resilience as he continues as a competitive sport shooter…
Nick was going to work at 8 years old shining shoes on Coney Island so his family could afford a measly quart of milk. He quit school after the 8th grade to help support the family.
Nick had an uncle, Louie, who fought for Italy in Ethiopia. He came home from the war and was lonesome for his family. He stood on the dock and said to a captain, "I want to go to America." He was told there was a long line to leave, so Louie got a job on a merchant ship sailing to New York City.
The ship got into the New York harbor and Louie leaped into the water and swam to shore. He avoided the red tape of Ellis Island. Cip was mesmerized by this uncle who just got things done. It was Louie and Ricardo, his father, who taught Nick the value of hustle and not quitting.
“Our first illegal immigrant,” Nick said with a chuckle. Louie, over 6-feet tall, became the family’s enforcer and Nick stayed close to that cat. Louie passed on his nerve to Nic, who didn’t jump off a ship in the middle of New York harbor, but he did jump out of a helicopter to ski down a mountain…
…with no clothes on.
Nick did helicopter skiing in Canada and New Mexico, which is risky business on fresh snow, especially when you are 74 years old and have no clothes on. He streaked a mountain in Taos.
“There are pictures of this nude skiing,” says his friend, Ms. West. “I haven’t found them yet, but there are pictures.”
Then there was the time Nick entered a shooting competition and was teamed with General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., the boss and planner of Operation Desert Storm in the first Persian Gulf War. Their team won the competition. More of Cip’s rambunctious personality was revealed in a back and forth with the General.
Nick served in the army in the Korean War and Stormin Norman asked Nick about his rank.
“I was a Private, then a Corporal, then a Private, then a Corporal, then a Private…”
General Schwarzkopf stopped him. “What the hell were you doing?” Norman asked about so many busts.
“I kept getting in fights with Lieutenants who kept getting my friends killed in Korea,” Nick said.
The Americans fought with one-hand tied behind their back in Korea. Nick was on the ground when 300,000 Chinese regulars poured across the Yalu River fighting on the side of the North Koreans, which flipped the war upside down on the Americans. If you want to know some of the source of Nick’s never give up mantra, it was watching the Marines handle themselves in that bloody tundra.
“The Marines,” said Nick, who was in the 34th Infantry Division, “brought back every last one of their guys, wounded and dead. They were incredible.”
Fittingly, Nick was a sniper in the Army—“sharpshooter”, he says because “sniper” had a nasty reputation.
After the Army, he went back to Brooklyn and worked in an auto body shop. He built a chain of four auto body supply stores in the New York metropolitan area. Nick knew how to hustle from his days on the streets of Brooklyn. “Tough neighborhood,” he said, “but my dad taught me to work hard, never quit.”
Nick sold the business in 1988 and moved to Vermont and took up skiing.
When he wrecked his knee and couldn’t ski any more, he moved to North Carolina. His second wife took his money—"a gold digger” is how Nick explains the rupture in his life—but all was better when he won over Carol 13 years ago with his Italian cooking (lasagna). Happily ever after followed.
They live in southwest Utah, right next door to St. George, host of the Huntsman Games. The vast ski ranges didn’t beckon him. The state's majestic scenery and the shooting did.
His first Huntsman Games was 10 years ago and he entered all seven shooting competitions: Skeet, Five Stand, Sporting Clays, Super Sporting Clays, Trap, Handicapped Trap, Wobbly Trap. Cipillino won golds in all the events and became a fixture in St. George.
In the most recent Huntsman Games in October, “Cip” started a five-day stretch where he won five Gold Medals swinging a nine-pound shotgun, a heavyweight, into a firing line at clay pigeons. He was shooting against himself for four days because no one else 90 had entered the events. Nick won gold with less than par performance, he said.
“My scores were really terrible,” he said. No wonder. Nick was just six weeks past a stroke when he competed, but he was not interested in making alibis. Carol had to shout out, "You had a stroke!"
On the fifth day of the shooting, he rallied. Nick outshot competitors 20 years younger in the toughest event of the week, the super sporting clays. If there was one thing his father taught him on those mean streets of Brooklyn it was not to let discouragement seep in, Nick said.
Again, the man is 90. He has 20-20 vision in his left eye and 20-30 vision in his right eye…without contact lenses and without glasses. To deal with the glaucoma in his right eye, Nick presses his cheek hard against the stock to help close the eye and rub out the bottom half that is infected with the glaucoma. He peers through the top of the right eye and squeezes the trigger.
Cipollino had to swing the gun and pull the trigger 850 times in those five days. Does he have muscle twitches or trembles like the rest of us when he has to hold a rigid grip? “Not that I can tell,” he says.
Cip does work with weights three days a week, which includes arm presses, squats, and then butterflies where he lies on the floor with an eight-pound weight in each hand and brings it into his body and out again.
Nick’s eye doctor had him take a vision test this week, not because she was worried about anything in particular, but so he could pass a motor vehicle operating requirement. Yes, he’s still driving. If he’s still shooting, why wouldn’t he still be driving?
Did he ever think he would still be shooting at 90?
“Ray, when I was in Korea, I didn’t think I would see tomorrow,” Nick said.
He was asked about shooting at 100 years old.
“That’s what I’m aiming for,” Nick said.
A good choice of words for a man who usually hits what he aims at.
Nick and his pals dropped on top of a mountain and ready to ski down...with their clothes on.
Nick and General Schwarzkopf after winning a shooting competition. Nick had to tell his new friend about being busted back down to private.
Nick and his haul of medals and trophies in the shooting sports.
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