How did Paula Saletnik, a small-town girl from Connecticut, grow up to be the first—and only—woman to win the Wild West Arts Club’s International World Championship for Gun Spinning not once, but twice?
The message she imparts to kids, especially girls, holds the answer: Believe in yourself, try your best, and don’t give up on your dreams. Paula performs regular shows at the Enchanted Springs Ranch in Boerne, Texas, that showcase her whip-cracking and gun-spinning skills.
“It never crossed my mind [growing up] that I’d make a living twirling guns, but I practiced at it, I didn’t give up, and now that’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years,” she says.
Paula got her first taste of gun twirling when she enrolled in stunt school to work as a professional stunt woman in Hollywood. But the guys told her, “Your hands are too small. Why would you want to twirl guns?” “So I had to prove them wrong,” she recalls.
Her Hollywood career didn’t pan out, but the experience led to a job at Rawhide Western Town in Arizona, where Paula portrayed Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane in stunt shows. That’s where she developed her first gun-twirling routine and Pistol Packin’ Paula was born.
An auto accident in January 2008 nearly derailed her career, though. Paula was driving home on a county highway in Boerne after a visit with her horses when her pick-up truck struck a deer. The deer wedged under the vehicle, sending it rolling and spinning off the road.
Paula was ejected out the driver’s side window and lay unconscious in the grass. At that moment, her landlord suddenly stood up from watching television at home with his wife and said, “I have to call Paula.” She heard the ringing cell phone laying nearby and came to. Paula was able to answer, and her landlord called 911 for her. Paula spent a week in the hospital with a broken pelvis, broken ribs, and a bruised lung. She didn’t have insurance and required months of rehabilitation, so friends and fans rallied to offer financial and emotional support.
“I’m very blessed with the people I have in my life,” she says. True to form, she was twirling guns again before she was even back up and walking.
“It’s like I tell the kids,” she says. “The only sure way to fail is not to try.”