3 out of 4 stars
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The phrases "give up, give in, or go away" do not exist in Vera Koo's vocabulary. For her, the only way is the way forward. Her memoir, The Most Unlikely Champion, is a testimony to living by these principles - rising to the top in a male-dominated sport while balancing family life and coping with hardships and heartaches that would defeat many of us. It deserves a three out of four rating and I'm certain will appeal to both women and men.
Focus, discipline, steely determination, and tenacity seem to be personality traits with which Vera was born. Her humility and enduring faith are also essential to her story. Then there's her unique attitude toward adversity. Viewed as life prep, she describes adversity this way, "...my whole life has been about getting through challenges. To rise, you must first fall."
Born in Hong Kong in the late 1940's, hers was a traditional Chinese family. Though her mother had a strong personality, she believed that a woman's role was to support her husband and wanted her daughters to follow the same path. Readers will learn that Vera did and did not follow this path. At an early age, her mother told her that she was "plain-looking" and would need to develop "inner beauty." Vera's reaction? "It didn't faze me one bit."
The Most Unlikely Champion chronicles Koo's journey to the top of a male-dominated sport: action pistol shooting. When she began, already in her 40's, most people didn't take women shooters seriously. Bolstered by her laser-beam focus, grit, and faith, Vera proved them wrong, eventually becoming the NRA-sponsored Bianchi Cup Women's Champion an unprecedented 8 times (6 consecutively) in the mid-2000's when she was in her 60's. She officially retired from the sport in 2018.
Perhaps more important than her life in shooting, the book reveals how she balanced her sport, marriage, and home life, adhering to her mother's traditional views, while coping with life-threatening physical challenges and "why me?" emotional anguishes. Test after test, she relied on focus, grit, and faith to push through and overcome.
The book transitions easily from the present to the past and back again. It is the feature I liked most because it ties together past and present themes. It is also the feature I liked least because it was sometimes difficult to follow her life's timeline. Still, this was not at all a "deal breaker" for me. All in all, a very interesting memoir.
The Most Unlikely Champion
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