Each March marks an inaugural athletic event. No, I’m not referring to baseball’s spring training, or basketball’s March Madness. On my calendar, March 1 marks the first day of my personal spring preparation; 2 months of competitive shooting and training culminate with the Bianchi Cup in mid-May. The Bianchi Cup, the NRA’s National Championship, brings together top professional, amateur and military shooters for the most difficult week of shooting many of us will face during the year. The challenge of the physical endurance is only equal to the mental fatigue that competitors face.
To train for the Bianchi, my family and friends claim that I “go dark on March 1.” This has been true in previous years, but 2014 has been a very different year for me.
Many members of the shooting world are aware that last year I did not defend my Bianchi title. I was not even in Missouri during my favorite event of the year. I was in California, attempting to re-learn how to walk.
In 2013, just a few weeks before the Bianchi Cup, I broke my leg, a spiral fracture of my right fibula and tibia. My doctor felt it would take 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. I knew that in less than 1 year, I needed to be completely recovered from a potentially permanently debilitating injury, so I mapped out my plan for a full recovery from my hospital bed.
I know what it takes to compete at the Bianchi when I am at my best, but at that moment, I was at my very worst. So, I placed my faith in a combination of Chinese and Western medicines, the best of my own 2 worlds. Doctors in white coats surrounded me as I slept and ate thousands of calories a day during the hours I stayed awake, the Chinese method for building strength.
On my calendar, I circled a date in December — exactly 7.5 months until my first match of the season in Ontario, Calif. By that point, I needed to not only walk, but also to have enough physical control to shoot, run and potentially go prone.
And so, with that goal, I did absolutely everything my doctors ordered. I started physical therapy and stretched and flexed every day, until I could barely move. I used my walker to build stamina, taped together boxes of ammo, and lifted them like barbells so my arms wouldn’t atrophy. I slept for hours every day and I ate. I ate so much, particularly in those first weeks. A 4,000-calorie-a-day menu that consisted of eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, steak, prime rib, sweet potatoes and cake. That is the essence of Chinese medicine: sleep first — eat second. And it worked.
As I returned to my home in California and summer began, I balanced my use of a walker with my determination to walk unassisted. Every day, I walked laps around my house and backyard, needing to believe that every step was taking me closer to my goal. It all could have gone horribly awry, and my bio on this article could read “former champion” or “former competitor.” But, I believed that following my doctor’s orders, my physical therapist’s instructions and my familial Chinese medicine, would take me back to Missouri.
Fast-forward through a summer and fall filled with patience and practice (my husband set up an airsoft range in our backyard,) and I heard “shooters to the line” in Ontario, Calif. It had been exactly 7 -1/2 months since I found myself lying on the ground, leg at a sickeningly absurd angle, wondering if I was going to live.
Physically and mentally, I had become a different shooter than the last time I competed — stronger and tougher. But, more than that, I believed in my basic ability to survive the elements.
I stepped carefully to the line, but I tripped and missed my very first shot. It wasn’t the glamorous re-entry that most people might hope for, but I’d worked too hard to give up. I had endured months of physical therapy, doctors’ visits and the frustrating agony of putting 1 foot in front of the other, as I slowly retraced the carpet in my living room. I gathered myself and focused. Ultimately, I missed 4 plates that match. I’ve only missed 4 plates once in my career, and it was nearly a decade ago. But, I’d competed the match. By the end of the match, my body obeyed me, and I had a new goal: go prone comfortably by February.
Just a few weeks ago, at a match, I successfully went prone (not flawlessly, but successfully, nevertheless). My score totaled 1905.
It is now March, the official beginning of my own spring training. This year, however, everything is different. I am ready to shoot, to better my record and to best myself. It’s just about putting 1 foot in front of the other.
© Vera Koo with Elizabeth Clair.