Review by Disneyland, Published Jul 5, 2020

‘The most spectacular rise can only come after you fall.’ The Most Unlikely Champion is the story of the author Vera Koo, a national action pistol champion. The memoir describes her evolution as an action pistol shooter. According to the author, pain has its place in our lives. It’s often how God teaches us the most important lessons. Raised under traditional, conservative Chinese values and a woman in a world made for and by men, it was very unlikely that Koo would one day become an eight-time winner of the women’s division of the NRA National Action Pistol Championship known as the Bianchi Cup. The pain in the life of the author molded her into a sublime superwoman. Koo narrates her story of life with the help of writer Justin Pahl. This is a non-fiction book published by Balboa Press.

Other events in the world also put her training as an action pistol shooter in perspective. It was the time when the Boston Marathon Bombing had occurred. Inspired by her fellow countrymen, Koo decided to prepare for the competitions. Vera Koo was born in a middle-class family in Hong Kong, the oldest of three siblings. Her family immigrated to San Francisco when she was 12 years old. She met her husband Carlos when she was 17, the summer after she graduated from high school. A Chinese-American woman, Vera was afraid of guns at the beginning of her career – ‘All the work I had done had been in service of the family or the family business.’ Her family was always a source of incredible pride for her. To learn the proper use of guns, she enrolled in a firearm safety course. And then, she endured a personal betrayal that rocked her to her core. She tells the story of the journey of her life from a working mother to a world champion – ‘My shooting talked for me.’

All the sports Vera and her husband Carlos had done in life – camping, hiking, skiing, windsurfing, and riding taught her to grow used to hardship – ‘If I can learn to windsurf, I thought, I can learn to do anything.’ I liked to read that the couple got inspired by movies for Vera’s performance as a shooter. The fact that Vera’s mother was an accomplished person in life had a great impact on my mind. The author’s attitude to work in life is appreciable – ‘I wasn’t shooting for titles. I was shooting to improve.’ I enjoyed reading about the author’s deep spiritual inclination in the later phase of her life – ‘Around 2003, I began playing with the idea of becoming a motivational speaker. People who perform public services tend to do so through professions that pay well as – dentists, lawyers, or doctors. I wanted more people from my culture to be openly engaged in the community. I thought getting my story out there and talking about my sporting successes could help inspire more people, especially women to get engaged!’ The book is both interesting and memorable. While reading the book, I felt as if I were sitting with the author and talking to her about the happy and sad moments of life. The author reveals the key points needed for us to meet the goal of our life.

I agree with the author’s aspiration of being a little older, a little naïve, a little wiser, in the face of trials of life – ‘I also wanted to make sure I had the discipline and work ethic to succeed.’ The point that Vera relates her story to readers in the book with the warmth of someone who loves people and life is worth mentioning! During her recovery process when she suffered from a major accident while practicing to shoot, she expresses, “Two weeks without shooting became months, and it shocked my system. It would be like if a writer couldn’t write or a singer couldn’t sing. Meditation was recommended, but sport shooting ‘was’ my meditation, the place where I went to clear my head and block out the world.” Other books that I have found similar to the memoir as a reader are – Fear Not, Dream Big & Execute by Jeff Meyer and Tears and Trombones by Nancy Lee Woody. The former book unveils tools that enable us to activate our dream and realize it. The latter one follows a boy, who turns to music for a reprieve from the sorrows of life. To explain the central idea of the memoir I would like to quote Vera’s words, ‘Search for the thing you are good at.’ In the words of Vera’s assistant writer Justin Pahl, ‘Most of us will never be sport-shooting champions, but all of us have adopted new hobbies and wondered how far we might take them.’ I was deeply influenced by the following words of Vera Koo in the book – ‘But to me, shooting has never been about wins and losses. It’s been about the way sport shapes you as a person – the way you have to be stronger, more disciplined, and more focused to shoot your best. We all hope to enjoy the challenge and the journey in self-discovery.’ I learned to work for work’s sake and not with the aim of any accomplishment in life after reading the book.

The author hurt herself physically many times in her practice days. It only increased her faith in God. She passed those periods with faith in God in her heart. There are no instances of profanity throughout the book. The book is exceptionally well-edited. However, I did find some unnecessary repetition of statements by the author towards the ending of the memoir. This is my concept of stories with progressive themes related to the human mind and ambitions. Readers with great ideals and goals in life should read the book. Also, the book is a good fit for youngsters and people looking for meaning in their lives. The author’s work definitely deserves 4 out of 4 stars!

Original review of The Most Unlikely Champion can be found here.


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