Late Bloomer’s Turn As A Shooting Star

Phots courtesy of Vera Koo

The following appears is in the June issue of California Sportsman:

Editor’s note: How successful has Vera Koo’s career been in the shooting sports? Her accomplishments – including gold medals in various individual and team events both domestically and internationally – fills three pages in her memoir. Koo, now 70, immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong, settled in San Francisco and, as a mother of three, shot a gun for the first time at 40. She became a world-class shooter over the next three decades, an incredible and – as the title of her book illustrates – rare feat. The following is excerpted from The Most Unlikely Champion, published by Balboa Press (a division of Hay House) and reprinted with permission. 

By Vera Koo (With Justin Pahl) 

From the outside, some people might look at the 2012 World Championships as my last great achievement in sport shooting. After all, I hadn’t won the Bianchi Cup since 2008. And less than a year later, I’d break my leg while preparing for the 2013 Bianchi Cup. 

But to me, shooting has never been about wins or losses. It’s been about the way the sport shapes you as a person – the way you have to be stronger, more disciplined, and more focused to shoot your best. It’s not about the people you’re shooting against. It’s about you – the things you’re bringing to the range, the disappointments and hopes, and your ability to set those aside. Shooting competitively is about facing challenges. Time and again, the sport has taught me how to get up after I fall.

So when I stepped onto the range in Columbia, Missouri, for the 2014 Bianchi Cup, I knew I wasn’t going to win my first title in six years. I knew I wasn’t going to be best newcomer. I wasn’t going to be leaving with any kind of prize. But then, most people don’t go to the range because they expect to win anything. 

WE ALL HOPE TO enjoy the challenge and the journey in self-discovery. Most of us that come back over and over are workaholics. We have that kind of rare total focus where we can walk off the range knowing that we shot the absolute best we could – and have that be enough.

My presence at the Bianchi Cup was against all odds. I was 67, and I’d shattered my leg. I’d grown up a Chinese-American woman in a family and culture that valued the old, traditional ways of life. And yet, in May 2014, there I was, ready to shoot. I was there because I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to participate in another Bianchi Cup. Because I wanted to test my strength and ability to persevere. I wanted to put into practice the words “never give up.”

And I was also there because my mother had taught me what it is to live a life of kindness. Because my son, Bryan, had taught me how to get through unimaginable pain. Because (husband) Carlos has supported me, through thick and thin, and has always remained my partner. 

Above all, I was there because God has a plan for us. That plan isn’t always easy, but God is there every step of the way. And although we may not always see it, God is in every molecule of everything. If we’re listening to God’s plan, if we’re looking for His presence, anything is possible.

I like to think the sport-shooting world has changed over my time in the sport – that more and more women are involved in it. But I know it’s still a male-dominated world. But then, so many worlds are still male-dominated.

I realize that, as one of the prominent female shooters in the sport – and a prominent Chinese-American woman – I’m a bit of a rarity from my generation. I hope I’ll serve as an example to women from all backgrounds: that they can look at my story and see shooting can be a great sport for women. Since most women don’t have much experience shooting, they tend to be blank slates. This means it’s easier to take instruction, especially in a sport like target shooting. 

I hope more women get into the sport, as it builds self-esteem and discipline. Even if you don’t shoot competitively, knowing gun safety and understanding how to shoot well are great skills to have. CS

Editor’s note: Buy Vera Koo’s book at You can also check out her website (, like at and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@officialverakoo).

Vera has a crowded trophy case.

As Vera Koo prepared for last month’s NRA Bianchi Cup in Missouri, we sat down with her to learn more about her ascension to a champion shooter:

Chris Cocoles Congratulations on the book and for all of your success in your career. From the title of your book, how unlikely is your story as a world champion shooter?

Vera Koo Picture a petite 5-foot, 4-inch 116-pound, middle-aged Asian immigrant who is a mother of three and has no previous action pistol experience, entering a shooting range by herself. It’s very unlikely that you would be able to imagine that this woman would someday become an international and national champion in one of the most prestigious shooting competitions, pitted against the best shooters in the world. I’ve competed on the biggest stages, against the best marksmen, and I didn’t pick up a gun until the age of 40. 

CC Tell me about where your passion for shooting originated from and how you stuck with it through some personally difficult times.

VK My love for the shooting sport is derived from the challenges and the degree of difficulty that the Bianchi Cup poses. The sport pushes me to my personal limits, and it demands that I keep myself fit and healthy in both body and mind. I am a natural workaholic, so the immense workload that comes with the competitive sport seem to fit well into my personality traits. During personal crises in my life, I have found that the sport helped distract me from the emotional suffering of that time. The training and competition have become therapeutic for me.

CC How hard did you have to work in terms of practice and preparing for the level you eventually reached? 

VK When I had finally taken the Bianchi Cup competitions seriously, I practiced 1,000 rounds a day for seven days straight, regardless of the weather conditions. With temperatures ranging from 27 degrees to 110 degrees, snow, rain or shine, I remained dedicated to my passion. There were times I practiced so long that I would have to soak my hands in ice water in the middle of the night to alleviate the swelling. Even when I traveled, I would remain focused and take any opportunities to get practice in. 

CC I think you’ve become a role model for women everywhere. Did someone have a similar effect on you?

VK My mother was my role model. Although she did not go to college, she was incredibly intelligent and carried a spirited and optimistic outlook on life. She had a great capacity to cope with whatever came her way. My mother passed away in 2011. When I first started shooting in competitions, she advised me to stay home to take care of my husband and cook for him. So, while she had not encouraged me to further my shooting endeavors, she did not object to it after I had become very successful. Basically, I did not have much support from my immediate family and friends besides my husband until after I had won many national and international titles. I channel my mother’s spirit and mindset whenever I encounter difficulties in the sport, which always encourages me to never to give up.

CC I read a little bit about your affection for the term “shing ping” and it was inspiring. Can you share a little bit about what that means to you?

VK The words “shing ping” were actually spoken by one of my friends who played a lot of golf. He was speaking to me in Chinese when I heard this phrase, and it is the perfect phrase to describe my psychological mindset on the range. Shing ping is a concept where the heart and mind are at peace in the world. When I’m shooting, I know I’ve reached shing ping when I have completely blocked out all the other competitors, spectators and distractions. I am solely focused on my performance during the match. 

CC There’s so much controversy right now with guns, the Second Amendment and the rights of responsible firearm owners like you. Do you have an opinion on some of the misconceptions that are out there? 

VK The media has failed to address the fact to the public that the guns do not run around and hurt people. It is the people behind the guns that hurt others. We must address the current state of the mental health care system and breakdowns in family infrastructure. There are far too many single-parent households that need more family support. It is also crucial that we address where and how underaged people are getting their hands on guns and how we can prevent criminals and those who are not fit to operate a weapon from acquiring one.

Vera Koo and her husband Carlos

CC You and your husband Carlos have experienced a lot of adventures around the world. What was one of your most memorable?

VK The most memorable experience I had was spending five days with my husband and family in the Maldives, a republic occupying an archipelago of 1,087 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. It was a paradise in heaven – clear turquoise-blue water and manicured white sand beaches paired with ultimate luxury service and accommodations. But after three days, my husband said to me, “This is truly a paradise; everything is picture perfect and beautiful, but it gets kind of boring here.” My husband’s comments have made a lasting impression on me because I agreed with him. Living in absolute perfection without a care in the world and with no challenges or obstacles would become, as he said, boring.

CC It also looks like you do a lot of fishing in California. What are some of your outings like near home? 

VK I didn’t go onto my husband’s fishing trips. He usually went with his fishing buddies while I went to my shoots. The fishing trips near home were not as rewarding as some of his trips to Canada or Mexico. However, I will be going to Nootka Sound in British Columbia for salmon fishing during the peak season this July with my whole family, including my five granddaughters. In the Bay Area, my husband enjoys fishing the upper Sacramento River (striped bass and occasionally sturgeon), the Sacramento Delta (striped bass), Clear Lake (largemouth bass) and Lake Berryessa (bluegills and sunfish).

CC What advice would you give to young women and girls who want to be involved in the shooting sports/hunting?  

VK  I’ve always believed in learning and acquiring new skills. If you encounter someone who is willing to give their time to teach you something new, grab the opportunity! Even if you are not interested in the subject matter or if you feel that you are not ready, just fly by the seat of your pants and go. You will be amazed by what you will and can learn. Because ultimately all the skills that you have picked up in your lifetime will come together into one thing that is major for you. 

Everything that I have learned and experienced in my life has come together for me into one sport. For the girls who want to get involved in the shooting sports, the most important thing is to find a qualified firearm instructor to teach the fundamentals correctly. It was because I had learned to shoot very accurately before I embarked onto the path of competitive shooting that I could be successful in my endeavors. You can climb the ladder better in the world of competitive shooting if you have the basics down. Otherwise, you may hit a wall that stops you in your tracks. Additionally, practice is absolutely a necessary requirement if one wants to become good at doing anything.

CC Is there something else in shooting or for that matter anything else that you want to accomplish?

VK Beside promoting my book, The Most Unlikely Champion, I am looking to go take classes in computer graphic design. Since I was an art major in college, I would like to open a small business doing graphic design on brochures, ads and flyers at a discount rate to help small businesses that are just starting up. It will be a way to keep myself busy after I retired from my shooting sport, but that won’t be for quite some time! Right now, my mindset singularly set on the upcoming Bianchi Cup and World Action Pistol Competition that takes place in May. CS