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A homemade bow made from a tree in the backyard got Vic Wunderle started on his trek to become one of the top archers in the world. Wunderle was 5 when his family fashioned a bow from a limb off the willow tree at their home in Mason City, Illinois.
He went from a kid who shot at trees in the yard to a three-time Olympian and 44-time national champion. Now 40, the veteran archer shows no signs of slowing down. He's competing at the second stage of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Archery this week in Chula Vista, California.
This is the seventh Olympic trials for Wunderle, who's the last American archer to win an individual Olympic medal, a silver medal in 2000. Wunderle said he'd trade all other international events to compete in the Olympic Games.
"Everything's on a much bigger and grander scale at the Olympics," said Wunderle, who shoots recurve. "You only get to compete in it once every four years, and it's the best athletes in the world performing at their very best. It's great to be in a multi-sport event like the Olympics, and we have more TV coverage than our average event."
His father, Terry Wunderle, is one of the top archery coaches in the world and the reason Vic got into the sport. Terry took Vic to his first archery tournament when Vic was around 7 but competed in the 12-year-old division.
"I was too young to read the scoreboard," Vic said, "and all of the other kids got participation medals except me. I felt a little sad because I was left out."
Tournament officials then awarded third place, and then second. Then they called Wunderle's name as the winner. That was only the beginning for the elated kid, who won other local and sectional titles, state titles and eventually national and world titles, including two junior national championships by age 12.
Wunderle competed in his first Olympic trials in 1992 at age 16, where he finished 16th. He finished sixth at the 1996 trials before winning the 2000 trials by almost 100 points. He won silver at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and a team bronze.
He qualified for Team USA at the Athens 2004 Games and Beijing 2008 Games and made the finals each time but did not medal. He made the final eight at the 2012 Olympic trials but fell short of qualifying for the team. He was seventh in points after the first stage of the 2016 Olympic trials last September in College Station, Texas.
The top eight men and top eight women in each event will advance to the final stage of archery's U.S. Olympic Team Trials this summer.
Wunderle said he feels no added pressure going into this year's trials as long as he stays focused.
"When you love what you do it's easy to do," Wunderle said. "Some days you don't want to do it. It might be cold or real windy, and sometimes you don't want to stand out there in the rain. But if you love it, then it's easy to stay focused."
Archery has taken Wunderle around the world and to 47 states. He missed his first week of school at Texas A&M because he competed at a tournament in Italy. He said one time prior to competing in Greece the airline lost his bow, but competitors from other countries loaned pieces and parts until he could comprise his own bow.
"It seems to me even though the governments of the world don't always get along, the athletes of the world nearly always do get along and show respect and kindness towards each other," Wunderle said.
Wunderle remains one of the sport's top ambassadors - something that comes with soaring to the best in the world. He relishes the role of promoting archery and being one of the many positive faces in the sport.
"We have many good athletes who are good for the sport and represent it well out there," Wunderle said. "There's always the opportunity to speak with people and leave a good image for the public."
Wunderle shot competitively for Texas A&M while earning his degree in wildlife and fisheries science. When not training countless hours, he's coaching the sport, putting on demonstrations for companies, showing up for speaking engagements and promoting his father's book, "Archery: Think and Shoot Like a Champion."
Wunderle has seen changes in the industry from the evolving types of equipment on the market to new shooting trends to more interest in the sport by a younger generation with movies like "The Hunger Games" and "Brave."
Wunderle said he doesn't see, or feel, a personal shelf life on him with archery.
"I don't know when I'll ever quit doing it. I'll keep doing it as long as I still enjoy it and I'll continue to do it competitively until my body says I've had enough," Wunderle said.
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 17 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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