Figure skater tries paintball

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With the delicate elegance required of most figure skaters, it's unusual to find them actively participating in a more physically rugged sport. It's even more unusual for that sport to be paintball.

Jessica Barnish, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, proudly participates in both sports. Barnish, a figure skater in her free time, said paintball is a sport she "always thought was awesome."

Barnish, 19, started playing paintball in high school, when her brother Brian, now a senior at St. Mary's University in Winona, Minn., took her to a game. However, she didn't take up the game as a serious hobby until she transferred in January 2004 to Marquette from Regis University in Denver. She saw an ad for MU Paintball, the club at the university, and decided to join. She was the first — and remains the only — woman join the MU Paintball team.

"People often think of me as a girly girl," she said.

Her parents, Tim and Debbie Barnish, weren't surprised when they heard Jessica had signed up for paintball, since her brother was playing as well.

"She's very close to (Brian) and looks up to him," Debbie said.

Mark Reisberg, past president of MU Paintball and junior in the College of Engineering, remembers Barnish joining.

"I thought it was good for the team," Reisberg said.

Reisberg said her membership brought added interest in MU Paintball, although it did not translate into more female members.

"Most girls who ask (about MU Paintball) want to play recreationally," Reisberg said.

Barnish said many girls don't play paintball because they fear getting hurt or do not know the game.

Joining the team was no problem. She said she "gets along better with guys."

She admits she doesn't fit the mold of the usual paintball player.

"A paintball person is more or less rugged," she said.

She says she's "way into fashion, putting on makeup, all that," and likes listening to Jessica Simpson and watching chick flicks.

Most paintball players do not have a history in figure skating either. Barnish skated competitively when she was younger. For 10 years, she was in solo competitions and for two years, she joined a synchronized skating team. She practiced 10 to 15 hours per week.

But "it was too nerve-racking and too much stress," Barnish said. Financial constraints and beginning college added to her decision to quit skating competitively.

She still skates weekly at the Petitt National Ice Center, 500 W. 84th St., and has a coach

Supporting her in playing paintball was her brother, Brian. He said he got her some gear and encouraged her to play. After she started at Marquette, she played with — and against — her brother in tournaments.

"There was definitely a sibling rivalry," Reisberg said.

Although inexperienced, Barnish picked up the game quickly.

"One guy on my team guaranteed he would shoot her, but (during the match) he was standing in front of her, and she shot him in the butt," Brian said.

Although she was all business during a game, the "girly-girl" popped up occasionally.

"It was pretty funny seeing a Louis Vuitton bag brought to a playing field," Reisberg said.

Paintball can be a rough game. The premise is simple — it's a version of "Capture the Flag," but instead of tagging while attempting to capture the flag, opponents shoot each other with paintball guns. If a person is hit, they're out.

Being hit can hurt, but Barnish has no problem with it.

"It's war wounds," she said.

The game can also be very expensive. Jessica's gun cost $1,000, which she paid for by working last summer. She must also buy rounds of paint and a tank for holding rounds. Entry fees for tournaments are also occasionally expensive.

She's still inexperienced, but will improve as she continues to play, her brother and Reisberg agree.

"The more you put into it, the more you get," Brian said.

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