Vera Koo shares her personal ‘Mt. Everest’ with us.
People often wonder why I am still participating in the shooting sport. I will turn 70 later this year, and my performance in recent years has left something to be desired.
However, I am not ready to walk away. I am still climbing toward trying to attain what I would consider my highest peak, my personal Mt. Everest. I remain determined to get there.
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A thrill of adventure is ingrained in me. I enjoy pushing myself to the limit while I try to reach new heights.
I have long been interested in studying other sports figures. I read books and watch movies about successful athletes. I like to learn what makes them tick. Unlike team sports, such as football or basketball, the shooting sport is an individualistic athletic endeavor, and I generally focus my study of athletes on those who compete in individual athletic conquests. I am especially drawn to literature and movies about the mountain climbers who have climbed Mt. Everest.
Years ago, I read the book “No Shortcuts to the Top,” by Ed Viesturs, who is the only American to have climbed the world’s 14 highest mountain peaks, all of which are more than 8,000 meters tall. Mt. Everest, of course, is the tallest point on Earth, standing 8,848 meters (29,092 feet) and residing on the border of Nepal and China.
I liken my shooting career to climbing Mt. Everest. Granted, my sport does not carry the risk of death that climbing Mt. Everest has, but both sports feature immense struggle on an individual level, both physically and mentally.
There have indeed been no shortcuts on my climb toward my Mt. Everest.
What is my Mt. Everest?
I want to see everything I worked so hard for, for so many years, come together at one time, at one Bianchi Cup. I have competed at Bianchi Cup for 20 years, and I have won the women’s division 8 times. I also have experienced humiliating failure at the Bianchi Cup. I have been on a downward slide at the Bianchi Cup since 2010, a performance so poor that some people wondered whether I might quit after that showing. I didn’t. I went back the next year. There were some who were surprised to see me.
Even during the years when I was winning the women’s division, I never felt that everything came together in the manner I desire. There are 4 stages of the Bianchi Cup: the practical event, the barricade event, moving targets and falling plates. Sometimes 2 of the 4 will fall into place for me. Other times, it is 3 of the 4. I strive to bring all 4 in sync at a Bianchi Cup.
I first began to view my endeavors in the shooting sport as a climb toward Everest many years ago after a conversation with Tomo Hasegawa during training at Mickey Fowler’s ranch. Tomo spoke to me about motivation and his challenges in motivating himself to keep pushing hard toward his goals. Tomo said that what has worked for him is to set a peak – a goal – and to try to stay on a path toward that peak. Once he reaches that peak, he set his sights on a higher mountain. As he progresses through the peaks, he is increasing in altitude, metaphorically, at least. He is striving toward the highest peak, Everest.
Everyone’s Mt. Everest is different.
Yours does not have to stem from an athletic challenge. Maybe you have a professional peak you are striving for in your career path. Or there could be an Everest in your personal life, a perfect level of contentedness that you are climbing to reach.
The key to pursuing a Mt. Everest in your life is enjoying the struggle that comes with the journey. You must enjoy the process as much as you enjoy reaching the summit.
That does not mean all the work and hardship along the way will always be fun. Training for a solitary sport, such as shooting, is grueling, but knowing that all the practice and preparation is helping me better myself evokes a certain feeling of elation. The reward is very personal, and no one can take it away from me.
I first realized I appreciate the process as much as the peak a long time ago. I married my husband, Carlos, when I was 23. I spent 6 months getting preparations in order for our wedding. I planned the party favors. I spent $50 on material for a wedding dress, and I made my wedding dress, along with a reception dress.
A wedding is just one day, and it goes by so fast. However, I enjoyed the entire 6-month wedding process. Appreciating the journey has been very valuable as I have navigated my shooting career.
Remembering Tomo’s recommendation to strive for smaller peaks on the way to the top came in handy at last year’s Bianchi Cup. In January 2015, I tore the ACL in my left knee while skiing with my family. I decided that, despite the injury, I wanted to compete at the Bianchi Cup, which took place less than 5 months after my injury. I poured all my effort into my rehabilitation, and I achieved my goal of competing at the 2015 Bianchi Cup. I performed well on 2 stages, but failed spectacularly on falling plates, missing 3 times from 10 yards. I also went wild on the moving targets stage. Nonetheless, I had reached a peak on my path toward Everest by rehabilitating my injury in quick fashion so I could compete in my favorite competition. I performed the best I could, considering the circumstances.
Many people might confuse my Mt. Everest with a desire to once again be a Bianchi Cup champion, but that is not my goal. One time in my career, many years ago, I entered a competition with the goal of winning. I did not like what that did to me, and I have never again entered a competition with that mindset.
My Mt. Everest is an internal struggle. It matters not whether I win. It matters whether I rise to meet my own demands. When I reach the summit, I know it will yield a sense of great accomplishment and joy, but I also am making sure to enjoy every step of the adventure on my climb toward the top.
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