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Sharpshooting Fairfield detective places 11th on History Channel's 'Top Shot' on Astini News

FAIRFIELD — Standing at five-foot-seven with a body carved from years of martial arts and wrestling training, Fairfield Detective Paul Marinaccio looks more like the last action hero than your friendly small town cop.

Every muscle tenses when he raises his gun, his 31-year-old linebacker's frame barely flinching from the kick of his Glock 23 as he fires round after round, shredding the head of a paper target at Essex County's police academy.

When the gun smoke clears, Marinaccio has put so many bullets on the mark that the target wears something like a letter X where its' right eye would have been.

A self-described "nothing in the shooting world," Marinaccio rode his accuracy and physical conditioning to an 11th place finish on the History Channel's "Top Shot," outlasting a Homeland Security Agent, a U.S. army veteran and other decorated competitors on the grueling marksmanship competition.

While he faced a slew of combat veterans, Marinaccio has never fired his service weapon in 10 years patrolling Fairfield. But should he ever be forced to shoot, the 31-year-old wants to be ready.

"That's why I take this so seriously. You have to think of your gun as your tool," Marinaccio said. "If that's a tool that I can use to save my life and the life of somebody else … I'd rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."

Beyond the muscle and shell casings, Marinaccio is a quietly confident father and husband who relishes the role of the underdog. In more than a decade of amateur fights and boxing matches, Marinaccio normally enters the ring as the smaller competitor. Some of the gunners on "Top Shot" fire up to 10,000 practice rounds a month, and many of them hold national marksmanship titles.

Marinaccio is "lucky" if he takes 500 shots at a range every four weeks. His first competitive shooting match was on the first episode of "Top Shot."

"My whole life I've always beaten the odds when I'm an underdog. I'm the smaller guy, I shouldn't have been as fast or as strong or as athletic," he said. "When somebody told me I shouldn't do something or couldn't do something, that's when I wanted it more."

Friends say Marinaccio was able to pull off his Cinderella run against talented competition on the national stage because of his blue-chip attitude and dedication to training. When he's not at work or taking care of his 1-year-old son, Marinaccio can be found at Alex Wilkie's Martial Arts Academy in Bridgewater.

"We put a lot of time in at the school. We've put a lot of time in over the years together and we're family," said Wilkie, 53, who has trained Marinaccio for 13 years.

Wilkie believes Marinaccio's martial arts background aided him on "Top Shot."

"With shooting drills, a lot of it is coordination and timing," Wilkie said. "People who do contact sports and things under stress, they do well."

While he doesn't have a wealth of time to shoot, Marinaccio is proficient with more than his police-issue Glock. Many of his "Top Shot" opponents were crackshots with one gun, but the Lincoln Park native is a capable shooter with a range of pistols, shotguns and even a few World War I-era battle rifles.

"I give myself a steady 7 or 8 across the board," he said. "You may be better than me in one discipline, but you're not going to beat me in everything."

There's no room for swagger in Marinaccio's hulking frame. A dutiful learner and patient teacher, Marinaccio is a disarming presence. He ends sentences with "buddy" or "pal," and friends say he takes his time teaching other cops who can't find the bull's eye.

"He's always willing to help out anybody who is struggling," said fellow firearms instructor Mike Nyhius, also a Fairfield cop. "He's just very patient, he'll help someone until they finally get the technique."

Marinaccio hopes that attitude came across on "Top Shot." The last thing he wanted was to repeat the performances of Snooki and other Garden State reality "stars."

"I'm not going to continue that cycle of nonsense," he said. "My son is going to watch this in a couple of years and say 'Hey, that's my Dad.' How would I feel if other people thought of me as a jerk on national television?"

With the cameras gone after his defeat on the Sept. 13 episode of "Top Shot," Marinaccio is back in Fairfield, but he's not bitter about the loss. Just like every other time he set foot in a ring or on a shooting range, no one expected him to get that far anyway.

"Fighting and losing, is not losing," he said. "It's fighting."

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