July 16, 2010 BY MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporter
The first gun Tara Poremba ever fired was an M-16 military rifle. She was only 18, a Marine Corps newbie nervously making her way through boot camp.
Wielding that weapon came naturally.
I think I was more surprised at seeing what I was able to do with minimal training,” says the Beverly neighborhood native and Mother McAuley High School grad. “It just gave me this drive: ‘I want to get better and I want to be the best.’ ”
Now, nearly two decades later, the 36-year-old Chicago police officer (K9 unit, based in Homan Square) and former police academy firearms instructor is the Annie Oakley of Chicago: an expert marksman and the first woman in Chicago Police Department history to earn the title of “Top Gun” in her graduating class. She’s garnered state and national awards, too. Her husband, Jim, also is a cop, as were her great-grandfather and great uncle.
Recently, and perhaps not surprisingly, television came calling. Poremba has been appearing as one of several highly skilled competitors (chosen from a field of 50 auditioned finalists) on the History Channel’s “Top Shot.” It’s a kind of “Survivor”-with-ammo reality show on which participants are divided into two teams (red and blue) and compete for a $100,000 grand prize. So far, five of the original 16 have been eliminated.
Because “Top Shot” requires contestants to use a disparate array of weapons on a variety of targets, a pistol specialist such as Poremba — who favors an Illinois-made Rock River 1911 .45-caliber — must quickly adapt her skills to a Tokarev SVT-40 rifle or a modern crossbow.
Poremba’s next episode (five remain) airs Sunday. And it might be her last. Or it might not. Per History Channel orders, she can’t say.
“I learned so much about myself from being out there,” Poremba says of a secretive monthlong stint spent shooting (the camera kind) and shooting in northern California from March through early April. “I learned my personal strengths and my weaknesses, being detached from home for that long.”
And, she adds, “I surprised myself with some of the challenges.”