Edmonton

Flora Kupsch 'Back in the Saddle' after overcoming gunshot wounds

She stands five-foot-four in heels, but dominates the range, where she practices hitting targets with her six-shooters as fast as she can.

Film documents recovery of top gunslinger and co-owner of Wild West Shooting Centre

When an injury landed her in a wheelchair, cowboy action shooter Flora Kupsch fought to regain what she lost. Edmonton filmmakers document her comeback in Kanada Girl: Back in the Saddle. 2:25

To look at her, it's hard to imagine Flora Kupsch was ever afraid of guns.

She stands five-foot-four in heels, but dominates the range, where she practices hitting targets with her six-shooters as fast as she can.

As the owner of Wild West Shooting Centre at West Edmonton Mall, she surrounds herself with firearms every day.

But it's the old fashioned ones she loves. Her revolvers, lever-action rifle, and shotgun transform her from a 55-year-old Filipina immigrant into the world's least likely cowgirl.

Flora Kupsch, 55, was once the female Canadian cowboy action shooting champion. The sport involves sharpshooting using weapons from the old west while dressed in period costume. (Kanada Girl: Back in the Saddle )
Kupsch competes in cowboy action shooting, a fantasy sport where shooters dress in period costumes and try to hit targets as fast as they can with Old-West-style weapons.

At the competitions, she calls herself Kanada Girl.

"I love shooting, especially cowboy shooting," Kupsh said.

She placed fourth at the women's world champion in 2004, and is convinced she would have won, had that darn gun not given her problems.

"I could have won that match, easy."

She planned to keep training and try again. But as it turned out, her childhood fear of guns wasn't unwarranted.

Taking a shot

As a young girl in the Philippines, Kupsch would hide the family's guns when her brothers were drinking.

Back then, she was terrified of those guns.

But years later, she moved to Canada and married a gun shop owner, who introduced her to cowboy action shooting. She followed him to competitions around the world before she finally picked up a gun herself.

"The first time, I can't hit a barn," she said.

She couldn't figure out how to aim. Then one day, things clicked.

"I went to the shooting range and I was shooting bowling pins, and I hit every single one of them with my revolver," she said.

"I was like, 'Whoa, I'm good.' "

Flora Kupsch said her feet were seriously injured when she was shot accidentally in 2008. She spent two years trying to walk again. (Kanada girl: Back in the Saddle)
She and her husband were together 11 years and still run their gun shop and shooting range together.

Kupsch returned to the Philippines in 2008 to compete in a tournament. She did well that day, and returned to her village to visit family and friends to celebrate.

"We had a party, and everybody is drinking," she said.

She said a man arrived with a shotgun, and sat across from her for awhile.

"I never thought about taking the gun away from him."

A few hours later, the shotgun went off, and the spray hit both of her feet.

She spent the next two years learning to walk again.

'I felt like my life is over'

After her injury, Kupsch needed full-time care from family and friends. Her independence was gone, and so was her confidence.

"I couldn't even look at my feet," she said. "I felt like my life is over."

Her dying father's words helped her pull things together. The last time she saw him, he told her he was happy she was alive, that it was time to move on from her injury.

Since then, she said, she's painstakingly won back everything the injury cost her.

Flora Kupsch competing in a cowboy action shooting competition in Phoenix, Arizona. A film crew followed her there to document her comeback. (Kanada Girl: Back in the Saddle)
"My doctor told me I would never wear heels again," she said. "And I told him, I said, 'You're not god.' "

She's wearing her four-inch heels again. And in 2012, she picked up a gun and started to practice the skills she thought she'd lost.

This year she put on her best wild-west costume, and took up her old moniker at an international competition.

"I thought 10 years being away from the U.S. shoots, that everybody had forgotten about Kanada Girl. But I was amazed by the response I got."

She said she's never had so many hugs as when she came out of retirement.

Back in the saddle

People back home support her return from retirement as well. An Edmonton film crew followed her to tournaments in the United States to document her comeback.

Filmmaker Rebecca Campbell won a $10,000 grant from Make Something Edmonton and the Film and Video Arts Society of Canada to make the film.

"Her story of hardship, but also being positive along the way and being determined to win, that was just such a huge inspiration to me," Campbell said.

Kupsch said she was hesitant to get involved in the film while she was still so rusty, but once she was back in the saddle she was glad she did it.

I told them, I said 'You believe in me more than I believe in myself,'" Kupsch said of Campbell and her crew.

Kupsch didn't win that competition, but did take home the title for best dressed. She also earned an invitation to the world championships.

The film, Kanada Girl: Back in the Saddle, will premier at Metro Cinema on April 16. After that, Kupsch plans to get back into the range three times a week to prepare.

"I know I have a lot of work to do with my shooting," Kupsch said.

It's been a decade since she last competed for the world championship, and her life has changed completely since then.

"I want to see how I stand again."

In more ways than one.

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