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September 02, 2011

A Conversation With Natalie Wells

When Natalie Wells of La Mesa, Calif. was selected as a grant recipient by the Women's Sports Foundation late last month, it seemed a fitting time to begin our new series of features: conversations with people in and around archery who shoot, officiate, coach and innovate.

Natalie "Gryffin" Wells has been shooting for many years, and competing for two years as a para archer, following back surgeries for degenerative disc disease, a fact that Wells shares openly with people who ask. However, her disability is the least interesting thing about her; much more inspiring is the fact that this athlete is focused on achieving a berth to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

"I want people to know that you are never too female, too old or too disabled to compete or participate in archery," says Wells, who received the biannual Women's Sports Foundation grant in support of her training, which takes place three to four days per week, a regimen that Wells is gradually building upon.

"My other training includes swimming, theraband exercises and Flexor ball exercises," Wells explains. "I am focused on earning a spot on the Paralympic Team, but my more immediate goal is the Paralympic Qualifier in Stoke Mandeville, England."

Wells has been involved in archery since 1976, as an archer, an instructor, and as a coach. She has shot with compound and recurve bows. "When I found out I had degenerative disc disease, I thought I would have to retire, especially after my second back surgery," she notes. "I didn't know how to shoot without falling over. I was a collegiate All-American, and a former USAT member, but I thought, 'well, I had a good run, how can I possibly continue?"

That was when Wells teamed up with Randi Smith, Para Archery Head Coach, who has since recommended Wells for the Women's Sports Foundation training grant. Wells was invited to a tournament in England with the Para team, and said she had enough fun and was successful enough to consider competing on the Para Archery circuit. "I realized I could still be competitive," Wells reflected. "I thought, wow, this is cool!"

Since 2009, Wells has continued upon that path, shooting as many events as she is able, and participating in training camps with the Para team and Coach Smith, in addition to extensive shooting and physical training at home. Paul Miller is her coach in the San Diego, and assists her with tuning equipment and day to day training. With her grant from the Women's Sports Foundation, Wells is one step closer to realizing her dream of hearing the roar of the crowd at the Paralympic Games in London next year.

According to the Women's Sports Foundation, "since 1984, the fund has awarded more than 1,200 grants and $1.4 million to women athletes in a diverse array of sports.  Past recipients have captured national, world championship and Olympic medals, including figure skaters Michelle Kwan and Rachael Flatt, gymnast Kerri Strug, bobsledders Vonetta Flowers and Jill Bakken, alpine skier Picabo Street, wheelchair table tennis player Jennifer Johnson, and the US National Water Polo Team."

Wells now joins this group of esteemed athletes in the pursuit of her own Paralympic archery dream.

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