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On the morning of his 20th birthday, Zach Garrett wasn't feeling great. In fact, his stomach hurt from nerves, and he hadn't slept much the night before. He donned a Superman shirt given to him by his girlfriend and her family, and headed to his second international tournament: this week's AAE Arizona Cup.
What followed was nothing short of amazing. Garrett, a Resident Athlete who had his first senior podium finish just last summer, delivered a score of 688 out of a possible 720 points, distancing himself from the rest of a field that included some of the world's best archery talent.
"You can go to a tournament and shoot the same scores you do in practice, and the world's not going to end," Garrett noted of his gold medal finish at last year's Texas Shootout. "You can just go out there and do it."
The Missouri native started shooting when he was young, for fun, and began competing when he was 14 years old. Fast forward: Garrett shot for just two years as a cadet, one year as a junior, and made the decision to move to the U.S. Olympic Training Center after graduating high school.
This Junior Dream Team alum has never looked back.
"It was super quick," he says. "It's been going from one thing to another, and just kind of a whirlwind."
When Garrett talks about his winter, he notes the importance of taking a break. "After Texas, I was pretty done and pretty burned out," he notes. "When I was in high school, I would take the entire baseball season off to play baseball, so I'd never shot an entire year straight like that. At the end of Texas, I needed a break.
"I took a trip with my girlfriend, took about a month that I barely shot at all. I came back to the Olympic Training Center really refreshed," Garrett said. "I think that's one of the most important things - having an off-season."
It clearly worked for Garrett, who says he's not big on indoor archery, but did compete at the Vegas Shoot. After that, he was immediately ready to turn his focus to this Arizona Cup.
When asked how he felt when standing on the shooting line, ready to shoot his first scoring arrow, Garrett said he was anything but calm.
"I was kind of struggling nerves-wise during the first half. I'd shoot three good shots, and then have trouble getting those next three off, just because my heart starts beating, and then I'm thinking I've never shot this well in a tournament before, kind of questioning it."
But on each arrow, Garrett said, he stuck to his process, and it paid big dividends. He stressed that he'd hit the practice range early despite the lack of sleep and hardly being able to eat, and thinks that helped him hit those high scores.
"This is exactly the same thing as practice. You've just got to go out and execute your shot."
Garrett said he'd seen his score and noticed his groups during qualifications, but that didn't faze him. "I've been scoring more in practice, and I know where I should be after two ends, three ends, four ends."
When thinking about what's ahead, Garrett puts shot execution first in his journey as a Rio 2016 hopeful. "I'm going to go out there and shoot the best shots I can, and I'm just going to keep training and working hard, because that's what got me this far."
Long-term, Garrett talks of trying to make a living in the archery industry, perhaps in engineering or product development. But first: trying to qualify for the World Archery Championships, and the 2016 Olympic Games.
"My goal in training is going to be to try to put myself in high-pressure situations," he says. "I know I'm going to be nervous, but fundamentally, there's nothing that changes. The wind changes, the scenery changes, but you can't control what somebody else is doing. You've just got to go out there and shoot exactly like you do in practice.
"You've just got to try to make the tournament as much like your practice as you can."
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