By Il Ling
What would you do if life handed you not 1, not 2, not 3, but a series of gut-wrenching, only-in-the-movies tragedies? What would you do if your life, as you knew it, had ended – not once, not twice, but so many times that you felt like the walking dead?
If you’re Vera Koo, you pick yourself up, “find something you’re good at,” and while you’re at it, become a record-breaking, gender-busting, multi-world champion. All after you raise 3 kids, run a successful business, and hit 40-years old.
Koo’s autobiography, “The Most Unlikely Champion,” is nearly impossible to categorize, and it’s just as hard to put down. Short but deftly crafted, Koo’s and collaborator Justin Pahl’s book is paced like a mystery and reads like an intimate journal. It’s deep look into one woman’s journeys – yes, there are several – through unthinkable heartache, tragedy and dark family secrets, to find her way to personal bests and personal discovery.
Background On Vera Koo
I’d heard of Vera Koo for years, and had been impressed and intrigued. At a time when there weren’t many women shooters, let alone female competitors, she was breaking down walls and records, paving the way for the rest of us. To win the Bianchi Cup women’s championship an unprecedented 6 years in a row (including an overall-match high score), to hold numerous national and international medals and titles, is impressive enough. To endure and dominate for more than 2 decades is staggering.
About The Book
I wanted to read her book because I wanted to know more about how all this came to pass. And, I’d hoped to gain some insights into being a better shooter. I never expected that “The Most Unlikely Champion” would make me want to be a better person, too.
There are plenty of training tips for shooters who want them: walking on your knees to train going to prone! Blocking out thoughts – how even 2 words can lose you .32 seconds! But more important, Koo shows us how the strengths she developed to be the best shooter she could be, also helped her to be the best human being she could be.
For those in the shooting world, Koo writes about people you may know, and shows us a bit more of these personalities. (Spoiler alert: Jim O’Young and Julie Golob are even bigger heroes to me now!)
Koo takes us with her as she meticulously engineers her own training, and – sometimes gruelingly – grinds out her practice. In physical and mental endeavors alike, she never settles for “good enough.” She lets us in as she struggles to recover – and even go on to live life to its fullest, after truly catastrophic events. Koo shows us how finding the positives – even when they might be obscured by negatives, goes hand in hand with seizing opportunities.
We get a peek behind a cultural curtain too, as Hong Kong-born Koo didn’t come to the US until she was twelve. Navigating the crosscurrents of Chinese tradition and American society, raising a family and nurturing a marriage under the same conditions, she somehow holds it all together. Living with the often-conflicting demands of clashing cultures takes a toll. But Koo, finding reason for gratitude in everything (one of her secrets), wholeheartedly states, “One of god’s gifts was a life in America…”
And About That God
“The Most Unlikely Champion” is as much about spiritual quests as it is of physical and mental journeys. Even as Koo admonishes herself to depend on herself and find strength within (“it’s not going to come from the outside.”), she discovers her faith and finds affirmation in trusting in a higher power.
This is as open, bare and even raw, a story as you will read, and yet it’s a study in grace. Throughout her story, Koo is notably is mindful of the kindnesses she receives, but we also feel how she gives the same of herself.
Perhaps most thought-provoking for the reader, Koo upholds forgiveness as a foundation of living – as long and arduous its path may be.
As I read “The Most Unlikely Champion,” I was moved with admiration – not only for what Koo overcame and achieved, but also for her courage in gifting us her story. In my second read, I began to think this could be on the self-help shelf. In my third reading, I was sure of it.
Koo’s recurring theme of mining gratitude and appreciation, even when there perhaps shouldn’t be any, is a lesson to us all. Refusing to give up and refusing to give in, on the outside and the inside, aren’t easy. Koo lets us see how she maintained her grit, and maybe it will rub off on us.
This is the kind of book that will grow with you. It’s the kind of book you’ll read again and again, and each time you do, you’ll learn something – about Vera Koo, and about yourself.
Il Ling New grew up hunting and fishing, and started guiding for her father’s outfitting service as a teenager. She received her first guide’s license at age 17. Later, she became the first female captain of her university’s shooting team. Il Ling is a professional guide in the US, as well as a National Sporting Clays Association instructor. At Gunsite Academy, she teaches Defensive Handgun, Rifle and Shotgun courses, as well as Hunting Rifle and Wingshooting.