WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo --
It’s not easy to see the golf-ball sized blue rubber ball bouncing from wall to wall, as two people run back and forth trying to send it across the court to their opponent.
For the 131st Bomb Wing’s Tech. Sgt. Suze Koehler, this little blue ball helps maintain the physical and mental sharpness necessary to perform her part-time military job, and has helped her earn a top-10 ranking in national competition, despite her rookie status.
Koehler said her goal for this year is to beat the No. 1 player in the United States and to go up by at least one in the world rankings. She is currently ranked 7th in the world, according to the World Players of Handball. The current pro handball season began in late September in Las Vegas.
Handball, also commonly referred to as wall ball, is a niche sport in which players use their hands to hit a small rubber ball against a wall so that their opponent cannot do the same before it touches the ground twice.
“Handball has helped keep me in great physical fitness condition for the military,” said the 131st Operations Group aircrew flight equipment craftsman. “It also taught me how to maintain my mental composure and not get hung up on things, but to move forward and make the necessary corrections to not only my game but my life in general.”
Koehler began playing handball during her junior year at Missouri State University while taking an elective physical fitness credit.
“At first, I thought, ‘how hard could this be?’” said Koehler about her first attempt at the sport. “I didn’t think it would require as much hand-eye coordination and endurance as it does.”
Koehler said that one of the hardest tasks to master was learning how to effectively hit the ball with her left hand. She said she needed to watch herself in a mirror to try to mimic her right-handed form, but on the opposite side.
Within two years of learning to play, she became an All-American, which means placing top four in Nationals. Tournaments have taken her all over the United States, from Los Angeles to New York City and from Minneapolis down to New Orleans.
“Handball is the most humbling and challenging sport I’ve ever played,” said Koehler. She said players must remain calm and focused to perform well. “If you aren’t seeing the ball, or are stuck in your own head, it takes breaking yourself down and rebuilding in a short amount of time to effectively compete.
“Being a member of the handball sport community is just like being a member in the Guard: there is an instant connection with others; a sense of family,” said Koehler.
In her Guard role, Koehler helps inspect, maintain, pack and adjust all of the aircrew flight equipment for Whiteman’s active duty and Air National Guard B-2 pilots. Through her training, she has attended three Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) combat survival training courses.
“Sergeant Koehler is the only person in our unit that has attended the arctic survival course,” said Chief Master Sgt. Tim Wilson, the aircrew flight equipment chief enlisted manager. “She is never afraid to take on a challenge and try new things.”
Integrating the training she received from the SERE courses, Koehler personally led and developed the land navigation course for the 131st BW’s annual training at Camp Clark, Missouri, in May. The course, offered to more than 200 wing Airmen over the two weeks of training, featured five challenges for teams to complete.
“I took concepts from the courses that I’ve attended and tried to develop a course that could be not only competitive and useful, but also fun,” said Koehler.
This isn’t the first-time Koehler has developed a course. The Airman also works for a non-profit in St. Louis, Missouri, and helped develop a self-defense course that she also teaches. A certified rape aggression defense system instructor, she used this training to help develop a stand-alone self-defense program called Date-Safe, taught throughout St. Louis at no cost to people who want to learn basic self-defense moves.
“Sergeant Koehler isn’t afraid to get out of her comfort zone,” said Wilson. “She is the first one to volunteer or lend a hand; new things just energize her in an unmatched way.”