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Amanda Nichols has achieved some of her athletic goals, but those aren't the only things she's after.
The 22-year-old archer from Cheyenne, Wyo., is also putting a lot of effort into her education and travel.
Nichols began her freshman year at Texas A&M in January and is hoping to graduate with a degree in history and a minor in a foreign language, either in French or Arabic.
In addition, she's making a push to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. After just missing out on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Nichols is eager to give archery another shot in four years.
And finally, there is what Nichols calls her "10-Year Program." After four visits to Israel, Nichols is convinced that she wants to live there, perhaps sometime in the next decade. That's why she's focusing all of her attention on her first two goals, especially the potential Arabic minor.
"They don't offer Hebrew here, so Arabic is the next best thing," said Nichols as she walked around the Texas A&M campus. "I figure if I want to do anything there internationally, Arabic would be a great skill to have."
Nichols and her self-described "big" family first went to Israel in 2000, and she instantly fell in love. After visiting Israel, the family went to Jordan and saw the ancient stone city of Petra. Nichols has been back to Israel three times, and after a visit in 2006, she also explored Egypt.
"I am very interested in becoming a missionary in that part of the world, or else State Department work in that area,'' said Nichols, who has considered studying international studies with a focus on the Middle East.
But it's the spirituality of the area is what really draws Nichols, a Christian, to Israel.
"Just being there, there is such a connection in our faith to the land," Nichols said. "And just being able to be there and see the places that Jesus walked and taught, there's just no other feeling like it, I can't explain it."
A self-described "country girl" who was raised in Wyoming, Nichols said the more rural areas of Israel such as near the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights would be more appealing places for her to live than in the fast pace of Jerusalem.
"After college, I don't know exactly when, but I definitely want to move there," she said. "I don't know when it will be, but some point in my life. Maybe it's my 10-year plan."
At the moment, Nichols is focusing more on her short-term goals, and archery is front and center.
Nichols gave archery a good shot in 2008 and had hopes of making the U.S. team and the Beijing Olympics. But she just barely missed qualifying for the final round of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. In the second of three legs of competition, Nichols placed ninth. The top-eight finishers from the second round went on to compete in the finals.
Jennifer wound up winning the last event, capturing the Trials gold medal. Jennifer also competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and placed fourth at the 2007 World Championships. Although Amanda didn't make the U.S. Olympic team, she traveled to Beijing to support her sister.
"It wasn't bittersweet at all, it was completely, 100-percent sweet," Nichols said. "Once I got out of the trials it took me about 30 minutes to get over it, and then I was right behind her cheering her on. It was an incredible experience watching her compete in Beijing."
Jennifer and Amanda are so close that they now live together in College Station, Texas, where they are freshmen at Texas A&M and are teammates on the school's archery team. They hope to be teammates again at the 2010 Olympics in London.
But for now, school takes precedence to archery.
After four years dedicated primarily to archery training, it couldn't have come at a better time for Nichols.
"Actually I am very thankful (for the time off),'' Nichols said. "I feel like I have adapted very quickly and the transition wasn't too hard for me. I am glad I came in as an older student and I am glad I took the four years off because I feel like I appreciate it more and take it more seriously more than I would have if I was 18 years old, and I appreciate that."
Now, instead of days focused on weight training, cardiovascular training and shooting, Nichols' focus is split between studying and archery, but she makes no effort to hide that school comes first.
"I think the biggest difference right now is that I have a different focus, because for the past eight years or so, my primary focus has been archery," she said. "Now that I am in school it has shifted; my primary focus is my studies."
"Now my time is a lot more split because of the studying,'' Nichols added. "I will go out in the afternoon at A&M and shoot for an hour or a couple hours or sometimes I don't have enough time to shoot. I had all day to focus on it before, but now my time is compromised."
Jennifer is tentatively planning to take two years of classes at Texas A&M before taking a break to focus on getting to the 2012 London Olympics. Amanda is still undecided on what she will do.
"I want to play it by ear," Amanda said.
For now though, she is enjoying life as a college student and a member of the Texas A&M archery team. She will soon be competing in the collegiate national championships and this summer will be shooting for a spot on Team USA for the World Championships.
"I was just blown away by how supportive the team is," Nichols said. "I've never experienced that before."
And win or lose, Nichols always keeps a positive perspective on her sport.
"I think more than anything archery is a journey and it has taught me so much about life and given me life experience," Nichols said. "And so much of what I have inside of me and what I've learned I attribute to archery. It has taught me perseverance and to enjoy challenges. And, yes, winning is exciting and important, but I think the experience that it teaches you is more valuable than winning."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Chrös McDougall is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.
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