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, took apart Schuerch’s Glock 17, a 9mm handgun not unlike the one she carries in the Spokane County Jail.
There has been a problem with the gun’s firing pin, a small mechanism that initiates the ignition of a bullet. Schuerch has been practicing “dry firing” so much in recent months — the practice of firing a weapon without ammunition — that the firing pin has worn out and fires twice with each trigger.
As she and Yuhas diagnose the problem, the two communicate in an acronym-laden language foreign to people who don’t have a strong understanding of firearms, law enforcement tactics and equipment: “DT” or defensive tactics; “LPVOs” or Low Power Variable Optics; “RDS” or red-dot sight; “DDM47,” an AR-like rifle. After some troubleshooting and an end to the snow blowing, the two go outside to Yuhas’ range to test the gun. Schuerch puts on her utility belt, side arm holster and armored plates – what she wears during the Tactical Games competition.
Schuerch said it probably seems a little strange to outsiders.
“I think if they don’t like firearms, they won’t like this,” she said as her tattooed hands feed bullets into a gun magazine.
Founded by former US Army Special Forces member Tim Burke in 2019, the Tactical Games is a competition that combines a form of “functional fitness” with marksmanship. The drills often simulate law enforcement scenarios, such as sled pulls, firefighter transport or obstacle courses. Most exercises accompany a shooting sequence with a pistol or rifle.
“It’s a physical challenge and a mental challenge,” said Tactical Games President Nick Thaler. “You’re competing against some of the world’s strongest and best shooters in the world, and those 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 spot on the podium in the women’s elite division in every competition she has entered.
“She’s a super fast learner, super smart and extremely skilled,” said Yuhas, a former deputy and firearms instructor with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office who has been training Schuerch for the past year through his company, Essential Survival Training near Airway Heights .
Schuerch placed second 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 join the Tactical Games.
“She’s a physical force when you see her,” he said. “There is no doubt that she is an extremely fit person, but she is also soft and light-hearted at the same time.”
Schuerch, who lives in Spokane Valley with his wife, earned two sponsorships at the Tactical Games this year. The first with Blackhawk, a company specializing in law enforcement and military equipment, and more recently with sportswear company Under Armour. The sponsorships have helped her meet 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 gear, including firearms.
“I think one of the most challenging events we did was in Mississippi, it was with a wheelbarrow,” Schuerch said of a competition in February. “We had to shoot our first launch sequence and run a long way to our wheelbarrow. It was a 400 meter plus run with the wheelbarrow.”
The exercises are derived from CrossFit-style movements that use what Schuerch describes as “odd-object functional fitness.”
The courses are not always predictable. Sometimes competitors have to shoot from an unusual angle or on the opposite side of a barricade, and you don’t know how far away the target is going to be, Schuerch said.
“It tests your skills and abilities, 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 placed third in the women’s elite division at the Bend, Oregon, Tactical Games competition and second at the Phoenix, Arizona, Tactical Games competition. She placed first in the aforementioned competition in Meridian, Mississippi.
Schuerch began his 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’ve just always 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 relatively easily.”
Between 2017 and 2020, Schuerch began competing in CrossFit tournaments and quickly rose to the top. She placed 49th in a regional competition in her first year, and in 2018 she 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 get 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 competition.
“I’m fitter 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 it .”
By her estimation, she spends at least two hours on training every day.
“If I’m not at work, I’m working out,” she said. “That’s pretty much it.”
Unlike CrossFit or most other athletic challenges, Tactical Games require a laundry list of equipment and firearms to compete in. Each item can also get quite expensive.
“Any little accessory you want to add to your gun, it’s so expensive,” she said. “The records, the record holder, the magazine pouches, the belt…”
“Every time you pull that trigger, that’s 60 cents,” Yuhas said.
Schuerch tries to keep costs down as much as possible. Some competitors pay several thousand dollars just for a rifle, she said. She recommends those interested to start with low-cost gear first.
Admittedly, Schuerch said she’s less interested in the gear than fitness. The competition is about 65% focused on the shooting aspect, she said
“Someone who is decently fit could get into this,” Yuhas said. “You just have to train on weapons.”
However, a recent proposal banning the sale and manufacture of assault weapons in Washington law could prevent competitors from improving their firearms skills, Yuhas said.
For people like Schuerch, Yuhas and Thaler, who oppose such laws, the legislation throws a wrench into their plans for competition.
“My future for my business is in jeopardy because of things like this,” Yuhas said.
The law would prevent Schuerch or any competitor from upgrading his rifle or buying certain components, he said.
The door was shrinking not just for sport shooters, Yuhas said.
Thaler said Tactical Games typically avoids states like Washington that pass gun control legislation, such as bans on high-capacity magazines.
“The competition will continue to exist despite the bans that are in place and we will adapt and evolve based on that,” he said.
Now in its fifth year, the competition has grown “tremendously,” doubling in size since it began, Thaler said.
“It’s growing,” Schuerch said. “I think this could grow like CrossFit did.”
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