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Vera Koo: How to Become a Champion Shooter

There is no real formula for becoming a champion. What works for me is focus and a single mindedness that sometimes causes people to think I am aloof. I am hard on myself and do not want to fail. Becoming a champion shooter, especially at the Bianchi Cup, the premier competition held every May in Columbia, Mo., is not unlike being a warrior. Every single time I face the challenge of competition it is like I am preparing for battle. I see myself as a general, preparing strategy and anticipating the enemy, which in most cases, is me.

Vera Koo

Vera Koo

The Rise to Success

The Bianchi Cup is one of the most mental challenges that competitive shooters can inflict upon themselves. There are only a limited number of shots to be taken at each of the 4 stations of the competition, and if you are not focused for even a split second, it can throw off your entire rhythm and change the outcome of the battle.

I entered the sport of competitive shooting when I was 45-years old. It was the last thing I expected to be doing. I took a class about gun safety and found that I had aptitude. I also worked very hard, like I do with most things, because I wanted to be the best at it. I have a natural competitive drive; however, the competition is not really against other people, it is to challenge myself to be the best I can be.

Bianchi-Vera-Koo-Nra

Vera Koo at Bianchi Cup

Today, at the age of 67, I am comfortable thinking of myself as a warrior. I have had many years to look at myself, examine my motives and objectively look at how I approach the competition each year. I am not a warrior because of the quantity of victories and their accompanying decorations, although I have been fortunate to have amassed many in 20 years of shooting, including 8 NRA National Action Pistol (Bianchi Cup) titles and 2 World Woman Championship titles – 1 at the Bianchi Cup and 1 the World Man on Man Shoot Off.

True warrior status is earned through discipline, diligence, long hours and rising up when you have fallen. Struggle excites me. If I am pushed to my own limits, I know I can get to the top. If I think too much or study too, much without action, I will not succeed.

The Fall

I learned more by failing than I have in all of my victories. Last April, I was gearing up to compete in the 2013 Bianchi Cup. I had not won the title for 3 years, and although I was not thinking about the other competitors, I was thinking about how hard I could push myself to reach the top again.

On one particular day, I found myself in a familiar position: I am the last person on the range, it is cold and I have a few final shots to make. While cleaning up my targets, I returned to my truck and tripped on a high rope. I found myself looking up from the muddy ground, contemplating not only my future, but also my very survival.

I am more than 50 feet from my truck with no cell service. I am in a haze as the pain increased and I became more aware of my predicament. If I don’t find help, no one will find me. I don’t know the extent of my wounds, but don’t want to face the end of my life alone, in the mud, and die from exposure.

Vera koo Mount Everest

(Carlos Koo photo)

My warrior training and my faith in God help me drag myself to my car to call for help. Hours later, I find myself in surgery, with a spiral fracture of my right fibula and tibia. Doctors said that it would take 6 months until I could walk normally and a full year for the swelling to reduce.

It has been 5 months and I am not only walking, but I am also shooting. It was 5 months of laborious effort, physical therapy, patience and doctor visits marked by milestones like graduating from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane. But, today, I can stand on my own 2 feet — gun in hand.

Looking Forward

Some sports are inherently singular. By definition, any sport that does not require a team to claim victory is indeed, an individual event. Golf, tennis, running and surfing all fall into this category, but shooting is even more solitary for me than for most competitors.

Many athletes train and practice together. Their families and friends gather to cheer them to triumph. They socialize before and after matches, attending press events, television appearances and awards banquets.

I do not.

I do not practice with anyone. Initially this was due to lack of opportunity, now it’s simply habit. During matches, I do not socialize with other competitors. I do not gaze into the crowds, searching for familiar faces for encouragement before stepping to the line.

Vera-Koo-Sitting-Bianchi-Shun Chu

(Shun Chu photo)

In fact, before I step up to the line, I don’t make eye contact with anyone. I am in my own world.

After so many years of being alone on the line and in my practice, my solitude has become my strength. It allows me to channel my tunnel vision. It allows me to focus on achieving my goals. At the end of the day, you are the only one on the line when the timer starts and the targets appear. It is just you, your gun and your hours of practice.

Perhaps that was why I remained calm 5 months ago in Missouri as I crawled hand-over-fist toward my car, knowing that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be discovered until the next morning, or even later. The training was just the beginning of my journey. I realized that the true challenge would be returning to competition.

When I look at my reflection every morning, I see a warrior. You may not. You may see a petite Chinese grandmother, who enjoys dinner parties with friends, dessert with every meal and living a California life. But perhaps that is the point. Warriors, in any culture, know that their internal strength defines their external successes. I may not be able to tell you the secret of becoming a champion. I can, however, tell you that finding your own inner warrior is half the battle.

Vera-Koo-Bianchi-by Shun Chu

(Sun Chu photo)

© Vera Koo with  Elizabeth Clair.

  • About Vera Koo

    Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with Vera’s fantastic memoir and life story, "The Most Unlikely Champion," she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News."

     

The Conversation

8 Comments
  • One foot in front of the other to return to the Bianchi CupHunting, shooting, fishing and adventure for women by women says: March 24, 2014 at 7:00 am

    […] 6 months until I could walk normally, and a full year for the swelling to reduce, as I mentioned in my inaugural column for The WON. But, while I lay in a Missouri hospital, I had the same tunnel vision that I have while competing. […]

  • terence chan says: November 30, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Hi Vera
    Glad to hear you are doing well after your recovery ,
    You were very kind when my friend (helen ) & i met you at the gun range
    and you gave us pointer to become better shooters.
    you took your valuable time & imparted your knowledge.
    i am very grateful, hope to meet up with you again
    as you are an inspiration.
    wishing the best for your future matches
    sincerely
    terence

  • Diana F Chan says: November 29, 2013 at 2:41 am

    Vera, You are a true warrior & an inspiration to all your friends. It takes perseverance to achieve your championship position in competitive shooting. Your accomplishments & recovery are amazing. Best of luck to you.
    Diana Chan

  • Bruce Piatt says: November 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Vera is one of the most self motivated, well focused competitors on the NRA Action Pistol circuit today. For years I’ve watched her stick to a strict training regimine which, as you can see by her Have a happy thanksgiving list of championship titles, have led to her well deserved success. I look forward to her full recovery and sharing many more Bianchi Cup memories with her. See you in Columbia Vera.

  • Mike Flagler says: November 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Vera:
    You are great competitor and a wonderful person to boot. Glad to hear you are doing well. I will always treasure to short times we shared. Best wishes!

    Flag

  • Cathy Ergovich says: November 26, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Vera,
    You are so true to the Shooting Sports. Your Legacy will live on forever. I will look
    forward to seeing you at the Bianchi Cup 2014. Your amazing stories are not just for
    the shooter but for all and any who want inspiration in life and to know that there is
    a WARRIOR in all of us.

  • Michelle Cerino says: October 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    What an amazing story. I want to thank you for the roses you made sure were given to all the ladies at the 2013 Bianchi Cup. My first pistol competition was the weekend before, so I was a little nervous, what was I doing there? After reading your story I realize that 43 is not to old to begin a new adventure. I look forward to meeting you are the 2014 Bianchi Cup.

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