I was precise in everything I did throughout my sport shooting career. I was precise in the way I practiced. I was precise in the way I ate in the weeks leading up to a match. I was precise in the way I prepared my guns and equipment for competition. So I suppose it is no coincidence that I can pinpoint the precise moment I decided to retire from sport shooting.
It was 8:23 p.m., May 23, following the first day of competition at the Bianchi Cup. I was in my hotel room in Columbia, MO. I had been watching a movie called Tale of Tales while eating dinner. When the movie ended, I put my left hand on my right forearm, and I felt it.
I felt the lack of strength and muscle mass in my arm. I knew my body was not serving me anymore. In that moment, I decided it was time to retire.
I did not tell anyone just yet. I finished the Bianchi Cup after two more days. It became my final match—a fitting place to end my career, considering how much the Bianchi Cup taught me.
Even in my 21st year competing in the Bianchi Cup, the competition can still surprise me. After all, I did not travel to Columbia thinking I was on the brink of retiring.
Leading up to this year’s Bianchi Cup, I knew I was in for an enormous challenge. The World Action Pistol Championship and Bianchi Cup were being held in succession in Columbia, allowing me two days of rest between the major competitions. While it marked my ninth appearance in the WAPC, this year was unique in that the events were held in back-to-back fashion.
At 71 years old, I knew competing in two high-pressure matches in such a short time would test my physical and mental endurance and push me to my limit. I prayed for decent scores.
That did not happen.
I shot poorly in the world match. Nonetheless, my partner, Jessie Harrison, and I placed third in the Women’s division, thanks to Jessie’s fine shooting. I followed that with a mediocre showing at the Bianchi Cup.
Rather than becoming frustrated by my scores, I am grateful God led me down this path. Had I performed better, I probably would have felt compelled to push on for another year or two.
Instead, I walk away knowing that the time is right. I am at peace with my decision.
After I finished the competition, I found my friend Cathy Ergovich, who owns a custom-molded ear plug business called “What-Ya-Say,” and told her that this was my final match.
Word traveled fast.
I am normally not one for a lot of socializing around matches. I never take pictures. But this was different. This was my final Bianchi Cup.
I took photos with friends and fellow shooters at the match administration building as they came by to share in my news.
Although my score was not what I wanted, I felt no pain or humiliation. I was grateful that I finished the match.
The previous couple of years, I did not attend the banquet following the Bianchi Cup. I was simply too exhausted after competing and then organizing the flowers and gifts for the banquet. But I had packed a dress this year—just in case I felt up to going—and I am glad I did, because I wanted to attend this final awards dinner.
At the banquet, I sat next to Anita Mackiewicz, a wonderful shooter who was this year’s Women’s champion. The NRA’s Victoria Croft served as the banquet emcee. Just before giving out the award for women’s champion, Victoria announced my retirement to the room. Everyone stood up and gave me a long, standing ovation. They were so sincere in their respect.
Afterward, fellow shooters came around and said goodbye. Some tears were shed.
The sendoff was more than I ever would have dreamed, and I felt extremely honored.
When I got back to my hotel that night, I felt so happy, so light. It was like a block of weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I don’t have to practice in the heat anymore. I don’t have to force myself to fire 850 rounds a day during practice in preparation for a match. There will be no more 5 a.m. wake-up calls on match day.
Sometimes when you make a decision, you are not sure if you made the right call. But this decision feels right. When I woke up Saturday, I still felt good about my decision.
Usually, for me, when I decide I am finished with something, I do not turn back.
I retire from Bianchi Cup with no regrets. I gave 100 percent to the sport. I achieved more than I ever sought out to do when I started sport shooting in my 40s.
I retire not wondering what I am leaving behind, but thankful for what I gained from sport shooting and the Bianchi Cup.
I treasured the Bianchi Cup and the lessons I learned there. The Bianchi Cup made me develop a strong work ethic, build endurance, face down obstacles and overcome hardships. It taught me how to set goals and work toward reaching them. I learned to never give up, and to strive for excellence.
I gained self-reliance, self-esteem and self-confidence.
I will take those lessons with me as I exit sport shooting. I do not plan to slip quietly into retirement.
I am putting down my guns, but I know my next challenge awaits me.
Read the American Rifleman review of Vera Koo’s autobiography: The Most Unlikely Champion
Lead photo by Kathryn McMillan/New Vision Videos