Shooting can mean many things to many people. For Keali Chang, it meant a way out of the darkness.
In ninth grade, Keali was a first-chair flutist, girl scout, straight-A student and air-rifle team competitor. In 10th grade, Keali had to spend 20 hours a day in a darkened room, trying to recover from a severe concussion. She was marching with the band in October that year when a color-guard flag struck her head, knocking her unconscious. The injury left her unable to remember her own name or to add two plus two. The doctors initially thought it would take her only a few weeks to recover, but the concussion got worse over the next several months. Isolated, inactive and unable to focus, Keali fell into a deep depression.
“I didn’t wake up wanting to fight every day,” she said. “I just wanted to go back to bed and never wake up again.”
But Keali still wanted to support her rifle team “family.” She came to the practice sessions as much as she could and celebrated her teammates’ improvements even as she mourned her own inability to shoot.
“It was devastating,” Keali said. “I defined myself through rifle. It’s part of my identity. But we didn’t know if I would ever be able to shoot again.”
Eventually, one of Keali’s coaches realized how to keep her actively involved: By helping others learn. Keali took the NRA Level 1 coaching course, then started working with Paralympian youth shooters. Soon she met Ella Murray, and the two girls became fast friends. Keali coached Ella all the way to, and through, the 2019 Junior Olympics, where the 11-year-old shot her way to a silver medal in the SH2 Mixed Prone Air Rifle competition.
“It was inspiring to work with someone so full of life,” Keali said. “She told me, ‘Oh, that happened to you? Yeah, that’s really bad ... but life goes on.’ We supported each other like sisters and still do.”
Keali is now in her senior year of high school and mostly recovered, though she still sees some effects from the injury. She’s back to competing with her varsity rifle team and continues coaching as well.
“Coaching gave me my life back,” Keali said. “It gave me a reason to get out of bed. I love working with the kids; I love teaching new shooters; I love building them up. And now I get to coach and shoot—the best of both worlds!”