'She's a physical force': Wash. CO rises to the top in Tactical Games competition
The Tactical Games were created to provide a platform to test the skills and readiness of tactical athletes of all backgrounds
By Quinn Welsch
SPOKANE, Wash. — The snow was blowing sideways as Ehea Schuerch, a Spokane County corrections officer, and Dave Yuhas, a firearms safety instructor, sat across from each other at an RV dinette. Yuhas, wearing black latex gloves, disassembled Schuerch's Glock 17, a 9 mm handgun not unlike the one she carries at the Spokane County Jail.
There's been an issue with the handgun's striking pin, a small mechanism that initiates a bullet's ignition. Schuerch has been practicing "dry firing" so much in recent months — the practice of firing a weapon without any ammo — that the striking pin has become worn and is double firing with each trigger squeeze.
As she and Yuhas diagnose the issue, the two communicate in an acronym-filled language that is foreign to people who don't have a strong understanding of firearms, law enforcement tactics and gear: "DT," or defensive tactics; "LPVOs," or low-power variable optic; "RDS," or red-dot sight; "DDM47," an AR-style rifle. After some troubleshooting, and an end to the blowing snow, the two head outside to Yuhas's range to test the handgun. Schuerch dons her utility belt, sidearm holster and armored plates — what she wears during the Tactical Games competition.
Schuerch said it probably seems a little weird to outsiders.
"I think if they don't like firearms, they are not going to like this," she said as her tattooed hands feed bullets into a pistol magazine.
Founded by former U.S. Army special forces member Tim Burke in 2019, the Tactical Games is a competition that combines a type of "functional fitness" with marksmanship. The exercises often simulate law enforcement scenarios, such as a sled pull, fireman's carry or obstacle course. Most exercises accompany a firing sequence with a handgun or rifle.
"It's a physical challenge and a mental challenge," Tactical Games President Nick Thaler said. "You compete against some of the fittest of the world and best shooters in the world, and the ones who can tie both together really well."
Schuerch, 33, began competing in 2022 but has already made a name for herself in the competition, earning a place on the podium in the women's elite division in each competition she entered.
"She's a super fast learner, super smart and extremely capable," said Yuhas, a former deputy and firearms instructor at the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office who has been training Schuerch over the past year through his company, Essential Survival Training near Airway Heights.
Schuerch earned second place in the national competition in Florence, Texas, last year . Schuerch competes in the women's elite division.
Thaler met Schuerch during a CrossFit competition in 2017. A few years later, he convinced her to enter into the Tactical Games.
"She's a physical force when you see her," he said. "There's no question she's an extremely fit human, but she's also soft and lighthearted at the same time."
Schuerch, who lives in Spokane Valley with her wife, earned two sponsorships at the Tactical Games this year. The first with Blackhawk, a company that specializes in law enforcement and military gear, and more recently with sportswear company Under Armor. The sponsorships have helped her break even on travel expenses, she said.
Tactical Games competitions take place across the country in smaller, regional ones that challenge competitors' strength, endurance and agility, typically while wearing full equipment, including firearms.
"I think one of the most challenging events we did was in Mississippi, that was with a wheelbarrow," Schuerch said of a competition in February. "We had to shoot our first firing sequence and run a long distance get to our wheelbarrow. It was a 400-meter-plus run with the wheelbarrow."
The exercises are derived from CrossFit-style moves that use what Schuerch describes as "odd-object functional fitness."
The courses aren't always predictable. Sometimes competitors have to fire from an unusual angle or on an opposing side of a barricade, and you don't know how far away the target is going to be, Schuerch said.
"It's testing your skills and ability, not with just a flat heart rate," Schuerch said. "Your adrenaline is up, your brain is a little mushy because you're not getting enough oxygen, and now you have to do this skill."
Last year, she earned third place in the women's elite division in the Bend, Oregon, Tactical Games competition, and second in the Phoenix, Arizona, Tactical Games competition. She placed first in the aforementioned competition in Meridian, Mississippi.
Schuerch began her athletic career in high school, earning state titles in track and field and playing basketball at East Valley High School. Her high school success propelled her to Spokane Falls Community College on an athletic scholarship.
"I just have always have been blessed as an athlete," Schuerch said. "It's just something God gave me. I've always been able to pick up athletic skills and abilities fairly easily."
Between 2017 and 2020, Schuerch began competing in CrossFit tournaments, quickly rising to the top. She placed 49th in a regional competition in her first year, and in 2018 made it to the World CrossFit games, where she was ranked 17th in the world.
It wasn't until 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, that she started considering the Tactical Games.
Men make up the majority of competitors but Schuerch said there is an effort to bring more women into the fold.
Thaler said about 20% of the competitors are women.
While Schuerch describes herself as "middle-aged" in athletic years, she also says her age has given her some advantages in the competition.
"I'm more fit in some ways than I have been when I was younger," she said. "I feel like maybe it's because I have a better understanding of my body, and my mental game is better, so I know exactly what and where to push and what pain feels like and when to push through that."
By her estimate, she spends at least two hours training each day.
"If I'm not at work, I'm training," she said. "That's pretty much it."
Unlike CrossFit, or most other athletic challenges, the Tactical Games requires a laundry list of gear and firearms to compete in. Each item can get pretty pricey, too.
"Any little accessory you wanna add to your gun, it's so expensive," she said. "The plates, the plate carrier, the magazine pouches, the belt ..."
"Every time you pull that trigger, it's 60 cents," Yuhas said.
Schuerch tries to keep the costs down as much as possible. Some competitors pay several thousand dollars just for a rifle, she said. She recommends those interested start with low-cost gear first.
Admittedly, Schuerch said she's less interested in the gear than the fitness. The competition is about 65% focused on the shooting aspect, she said
"Someone who is decently fit could come into this," Yuhas said. "You just need to train on guns."
However, a recent proposal prohibiting the sale and manufacture of assault weapons in the Washington Legislature could prevent competitors from improving their firearm skills, Yuhas said.
For people like Schuerch, Yuhas and Thaler, who are opposed to such laws, the legislation throws a wrench in their plans for competition.
"My future of my business is in jeopardy because of things like this," Yuhas said.
The law would prevent Schuerch, or any competitor, from upgrading her rifle or purchasing certain components, he said.
The door didn't just shrink for sports shooters, Yuhas said.
"It slammed shut."
Thaler said the Tactical Games typically avoids states, like Washington, that enact gun control legislation, such as bans on high-capacity magazines.
"The competition will continue to exist despite what bans exist, and we'll adapt and evolve based on it," he said.
Now in its fifth year, the competition has grown "tremendously," doubling in size since it began, Thaler said.
"It is growing," Schuerch said. "I think this could grow just like CrossFit did."
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