Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie summed up his performance in the Caitlin’s Battle tactical course Saturday morning with a touch of irony.
“With the pistol and rifle, I’m qualified. With the cardio, I was in pretty bad shape,” Sollie said with a slight chuckle.
It was a brief lighthearted moment on what was otherwise a solemn day for Sollie, a longtime law enforcement officer who is serving his seventh term as Lauderdale County’s sheriff. The tactical course, which was set up at the Meridian Public Safety Training Center, had participants wear a 15-pound vest if they were men or a 13-pound vest if they were women while toting around a pistol belt and a rifle. Alternating between shooting targets and running to various locations around the training center, Sollie’s exercise included four flights of stairs to climb and a 50-pound sled to drag.
Completing the course didn’t come easy, but that was to be expected, as Caitlin’s Battle was named after Sollie’s daughter, Caitlin Sollie Powell, who is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 breast cancer. The physical exhaustion he felt was a way for Sollie to both stand in solidarity for his daughter and to help in her fight, as the course was part of a larger fundraiser — the Caitlin Sollie Powell Benefit Shoot — to help cover Powell’s medical expenses.
“I did it for my daughter,” Sollie explained. “I wanted her to know I was hurting just like she was.”
At the end of Caitlin’s Battle, Powell was there to greet her father and embrace him, a moment Sollie will never forget.
“It was wonderful to feel her and have that closeness,” Sollie said.
Powell was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2018, and soon afterward, Lauderdale County’s shooting sports community began planning a fundraiser to aid Powell in her fight. Valerie Smith, who helped organize Saturday’s event, said she and her husband, Wade, hoped to combine a passion of theirs with a worthwhile cause.
“We like to shoot and know a lot of like-minded people, so it’s about taking something you’re good at and trying to help people,” Smith explained.
A shooting sports fundraiser felt natural, since Sollie is trained in firearms as a sheriff, and Smith said it was the least she and her husband could do for a friend.
“This is our community,” Smith said. “It’s our sheriff’s daughter, but it’s also our community’s daughter. It’s like one large family reunion where we’re gathering and supporting one of our family members.”
Sollie said the support of the community left him almost speechless.
“One word: humbling,” Sollie said.
His wife, Diann Sollie, said the numerous people showing up to the event moved her to tears.
“It’s very humbling to see a community come together in support of a child they may not even know,” Diann Sollie said.
Diann Sollie admitted every day brings a roller coaster of emotions as she watches her daughter battle cancer, which is why Saturday’s fundraiser was so special for her and her family.
“It helps us that we can see how giving and caring this community is,” Diann Sollie said. “At the same time, it keeps the focus on hope for healing — for all cancer patients.”
The tactical course wasn’t the only thing Saturday’s benefit offered for visitors. Various items were up for purchase, ranging from firearms to ammunition to barbecue for lunch. All proceeds went toward Powell’s medical expenses, and going into Saturday’s event, they had already raised $15,000.
Bill Baldner, whose daughter, Leanna, was friends with Powell in high school, purchased ammunition Saturday morning and said he was grateful to help support Sollie’s family in a time of need.
“When we’d see Caitlin, she was always really polite and had a pretty smile, and she was always easy to talk to,” Baldner recalled. “Just being able to send positive prayers back is good.”
Smith said in addition to raising money for Powell, she hoped the event would lead to more local interest in shooting sports. She recalled one example when she was on the course where a fellow shooter ran out of ammunition and was about to tap out before another participant offered his ammunition, even though they were competing against each other.
“What other sport do you see that kind of camaraderie?” Smith said. “It’s a family event. It’s something you can bring your children to, and you don’t have to have been doing it for 20 years (to be good).”
If there’s one thing Billy Sollie wanted people to take away from Saturday’s event, other than his family’s thankfulness, it’s the importance of getting regular medical attention.
“I can’t emphasize enough for people to get checkups to catch this disease in its early stages,” Billy Sollie said.
If you were unable to attend Saturday's benefit but would still like to donate, visit donatenow.networkforgood.org/caitlinsolliepowellrecoveryfund.