By Jessica Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Looking at Vera Koo’s achievements, it’s amazing that they’re all attributed to one person. Surely, it would take four or five people to amass that many awards! In fact, it’s all her — Vera Koo, 71 years young, Chinese American, entrepreneur, mother and wife, multi-time world and national champion pistol shooter. Koo is a perfect example that anyone can achieve anything at any time.
Koo is currently training for two competitions: the 2018 World Action Pistol Shooter Championship and the 2018 National Action Pistol Shooter Championship (the Bianchi Cup). Koo has competed in every world championship since 1999, and every national championship since 1997, missing only one year in both due to a broken leg. Koo hasn’t just shown up. She has won. To date, Vera has won eight national women’s champion titles, while in the world event, she has consistently placed in the top three, and won two individual and four gold team titles. All since the age of 40. And all because Koo’s mother told her to make sure she participates in her husband’s hobbies.
Koo had a traditional Chinese upbringing. “I was told by my mom, ‘You are supposed to keep your husband company. Whatever he wants to do, you do it with him. Otherwise, he’ll find someone else to do it with him!’” When Vera Koo met her husband, she said she didn’t have a single athletic cell in her body. “I didn’t exercise, didn’t do anything outdoors. My husband is a complete outdoorsman … so I had to do a 360-degree turnaround and be that person to him.” Little did anyone know, even Koo, that she wouldn’t just learn whatever sport her husband pursued — she would pick one for herself and become a world champion.
When Koo was introduced to shooting, she was already a mother and business owner. People in her circle began encouraging her to use a gun. “Go ahead, Vera, try it!” they would say. Koo innately understood the importance of gun safety, the lack of which she blames in part for the ills plaguing the nation.
“I saw the danger of being ignorant about firearms safety. I went to school to learn about it.
Nowadays, if people have better information, that can save lives.” Vera started her gun training at a community college. There were only three women in her class. By the time Koo finished her schooling, she could outshoot 98 percent of the other shooters on accuracy. Her instructor saw a bright future for her, while warning her to never “sandbag” — never to be complacent, but always to keep learning. Koo took that lesson to heart.
Koo often competes exclusively with men. People have tried to intimidate her. “Competition is very cutthroat,” they have told her, as if to imply, “I don’t think you want to try this.” Koo has been a part of the U.S. world action pistol championship shooting team since 1999. She has faced discrimination from the beginning. “Vera’s just here looking for men,” some shooters would say.
“And then I beat them,” said Koo. “When you’re good, they respect you.” Koo noted that, among expert shooters, it is an equal playing field. “I’m just one of them. I’m a shooter, they are a shooter. I don’t see gender…I can do everything a man would do on the range.”
It wasn’t easy juggling the roles of wife, mother, entrepreneur, and aspiring shooter. Koo worked long hours at the office and at home, surviving off of very little sleep, so that she could do her best in every sphere of life. She knew she was bucking tradition and gender stereotypes.
“I aced everything at home and everything at the office…whatever job I needed to do before I went to shoot. I did not compromise in any other area I was responsible for.” About her husband’s support of her shooting, Koo said, “I earned it.”
Koo is an icon in the shooting world. She has never forgotten her first lessons and never stops working to improve. “I never target to win as my personal goal. For all the matches for the last 20 years, I have never gone intentionally to win. I’m just trying to put out my personal best.” Koo attributes her success to the blessings bestowed by God.
“I am fortunate that I have the ability to think my way through problems. I am most proud of how I can survive all my obstacles.”
Koo’s story can be found on her website, verakoo.com, and in her recently released book, Vera Koo, the Most Unlikely Champion.
Jessica Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.