More than 20 years ago, I found myself at the lowest point of my life.
I had experienced a terrible personal crisis. Suffice it to say that this crisis was an external force that shattered my core values. I had built my beliefs based on certain principles, and this crisis destroyed those beliefs on which I had built my world, causing my world to fall apart.
I felt at the time that this explosion of force that came upon me was strong enough that it had the potential to destroy me and everyone around me with it. The shooting sports saved me. It gave me a temporary refuge that let me have time to regain my balance in life and heal my wounds.
I believe this sport was God’s way of giving me a second chance to better my life. He was already at work and made sure everything was in place so that I could handle the crisis that was to come.
My crisis did not cause me to begin my extensive involvement in the competitive shooting sports. Rather, I started taking firearm classes at a local community college a few years before the crisis because I was afraid of guns. I did not want to remain ignorant of firearms. I wanted to learn how to safely handle them so that I could eliminate my fear.
I began competing in Steel Challenge in 1992. My crisis occurred a year later.
When the rug got pulled from under me, the sport of competitive shooting helped me recover my footing. The process of training and competing in the competitions absorbed all of my energy and attention.
Therefore, when I found myself in the hole with darkness all around me, I found refuge in the sport, where I had temporary peace.
Although shooting became therapeutic for me, it could just as easily have been a different sport or activity that saved me. It could have been a tennis racket, but I did not learn how to play tennis. Shooting was already in place for me because I excel at it.
I started taking shooting classes when I was 41. I began to get more serious about the sport when I was 47, and I dedicated myself to becoming the best I could be from that point forward. I got my first big win just before I turned 50. I claimed Top Woman honors at the American Handgunner World Man-on-Man Shoot-Off. It was a total surprise for me! Needless to say, time flies. That was nearly 20 years ago.
At the time, I appeared fine to the world. I hid the forces that were working to destroy me. Yet, internally, I was a mess. I walked around feeling as if I was in the empty shell of my body, experiencing the extreme pain that descended upon me.
However, even as crisis threatened to claim my life, I began to rebuild a new world for myself through competitive shooting. I bought time with the sport.
This sport is demanding, and I poured my attention into it. Performing well in competitions requires a shooter to have the highest levels of focus leading up to the match. I was happy while working within the sport. I concentrated my efforts on my practice, on getting my equipment just right for competitions and on planning every detail so that I would be ready for anything that might come my way in a match environment.
I also did not go at handling my crisis alone.
There is a negative stigma in my culture – and in some other cultures, too – about seeking professional help for struggles that one might encounter in life, but I am a living testament to the positive power therapy can have when you face a crisis that is too much to handle on your own. I saw a therapist for two years while I faced my crisis. If I had an emergency, I could call her any day of the week, and she would see me right away. I consider myself fortunate that I had the good sense to realize I needed help. My therapist helped me come through my crisis faster, healthier and more whole. In addition to the therapy sessions, I had made prayers a regular part of my life.
If not for my crisis, I never would have competed in shooting for as long as I did. After competing at my first Steel Challenge championship, I felt ready to walk away from the sport. I thanked speed-shooting specialist Jim O’Young, who had coached me, and took his parents to the Chinese opera as a show of gratitude.
Then my crisis struck, and not long after that, the firearm instructor who had taught my classes at the community college asked if I would come do a demonstration for his law enforcement students. He thought it would be good for his class of rookies to see how an ordinary middle-aged Asian woman could shoot so well, so as to teach them to never judge a person by his/her appearance.
Shortly after giving that demonstration, O’Young contacted me about competing in Steel Challenge again that upcoming year. I ultimately stayed in that discipline for 10 years, although I did later switch from speed shooting to Bianchi Cup, competing in my first Bianchi competition in 1997.
All the while, I continued to recover from the crisis I faced. It took me 10 years, but finally, with the help of this sport, I climbed out of the hole I had been in.
I emerged as an improved version of myself, better than I had ever been before. I have more confidence in myself, with more self-esteem and self-reliance. I became more compassionate and kind, and I am at peace with the universe.
Many of my peers in the shooting sport have referred to me as an enigma. In many ways, I appear as if I do not belong in this sport. I am a petite Asian woman who did not get her start in shooting until middle age. My husband is not a competitive shooter. The only reason I ever took a firearm class was because I was afraid of guns.
It may seem that I am not supposed to be here, but here I am. I do not consider this a coincidence. Competitive shooting was God’s way of providing an avenue to handle my crisis and a tool He used to build me into a better person.
I once thought my life would be shortened by five years by the sheer trauma I endured. However, a year and a half into facing my crisis, I realized it would become the best thing that could have happened to me. It catapulted me out of the world that I was in and into a completely different world. At that time, I did not fully know just how far I could come or grow, but looking back, I am grateful for the wake-up call. For every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. It may be that the darker the cloud, the brighter the lining. You just have to be patient and wait for it to reveal itself.
We believe Vera Koo is talent and grace rolled into one fine role model for all women, especially women who want to learn to shoot firearms. Please visit her at VeraKoo.com.
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." View all posts by Vera Koo
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