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March 25, 2024

Women's History Month: USA Archery pays tribute to the past, present and future

Did you hear the one about the female mechanical engineer, speech language pathologist, professor, and retired major in the Air Force Reserves, all of whom compete at USA Archery events?

Well, they have a great time, mingling with friends, sharing their experiences, and enjoying one another’s successes. There is no punchline because these are genuinely the kind of women who have made archery their passion, and they are not alone.

Step onto the line at any event on any given weekend in any part of this vast nation and there are shining examples of women making an impact in the sport and in their archery community.

From the Masters division down, there are women who have dedicated their life to breaking down barriers, opening doors, and striving for equality. And in doing so, they have paved the way for the explosion of archery talent now coming through, from 16-year-olds Liko Arreola (compound) and Ava Jones (barebow) to 15-year-old Akshara Vijay (recurve).

Indeed, at the recent Indoor Nationals Final in Louisville, Ky., six of the eight compound women were in their teens, including Chloe Nelsen who was 13 at the time. Five of the eight barebow women were teenagers, among them 14-year-old Medina Otajagic.

The average age of the 24 female archers competing in Louisville was 21, with just two in their 40s and one in her 30s. The future appears incredibly bright.

And while there will ultimately be a focus on what is to come, with the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games this year and LA hosting in 2028, none would be possible without those who have contributed week in, week out, year in, year out for many, many decades.

There are pioneers like Doreen Wilber and Luann Ryon. Wilber won the women’s gold medal when archery was reintroduced to the modern Olympic program in 1972, and Ryon topped the podium at the Montreal 1976 Games.

They will have inspired the likes of Melanie Hull and Debra Ochs who had 14-year-old Denise Parker alongside them in Seoul in 1988 while winning team bronze.

And while there are those who will have inspired, there are also those who are passing down the knowledge they have learnt to the next generation of talent. Two-time Olympian, Judi Adams, has been coaching Molly Nugent for the past four years. Nugent is among the 16 hopefuls seeking to make it to Paris for this year’s Games.

There are those within the archery community who, if they are not competing, then they are among the judges, making sure the events run smoothly, such as Diana LaBeau (pictured, who has been shooting since 1980, by the way).

The masters division contains incredible women, who have turned to archery or returned to the sport after raising a family. There are women such as Nicole Rasor, who competed for Austria in diving at the LA Games of 1984, or Lisa Yamamoto, a former cyclist who just so happened to work in the aerospace industry with the Mir space station and served in the US Navy as a physician, and then there is Jill Fraser, who made a living writing music for movies, TV and TV commercials!

All are role models who have lived life, and yet remain passionate about archery and eager to share that love of the sport.

Talking of role models and inspirational figures, on the para side, look no further than the likes of Candice Caesar, Wendy Gardner, or Tracy Otto. Caesar a single mom and army veteran, Gardner still finds ways to give back despite setbacks suffered, and Otto, one of life’s survivors and a shining light.

There are dozens and dozens of women involved in archery who in breaking down barriers have helped build a community, and whose selfless contribution to the sport has made it richer. In embracing Women’s History Month, it is only right that the support and passion and sacrifices made are acknowledged and appreciated, though not simply throughout the month of March but throughout the years.

To keep up with our amazing women archers, connect with us on Facebook and Instagram, and read more about our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and access.

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