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May 15, 2024

Bob Park, inspired by the Olympic Games, now a two-time developmental coach of the year

Dr. Robert ‘Bob’ Park likes to help people, whether as part of his day job as a retina surgeon at Carolina Ophthalmology, or as a coach at Asheville Archery Training Center in North Carolina.

The work he does in the field of eye care gives back what people may have lost or be losing. The work he does on the archery field gives people something they often don’t even know they have. On the one hand, he helps restore sight and on the other he sees something in others and helps draw that out.

And it is his exceptional dedication and devotion to the sport of archery that has been recognized not once but twice this year. Dr. Park was named USA Archery Developmental Coach of the Year in January and last month was bestowed the same honor by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

“I did not expect to win any awards for what I'm doing,” Dr. Park began. “And I was very surprised to win USA Archery's Developmental Coach of the Year Award. I was very flattered and quite humbled. I'd never expected to win that.

“And in addition to that to get an award from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee was quite stunning to me. I'm not doing this for the awards. What I'm trying to do is to help to teach people how to be their best selves and archery is the way that I choose to do that.”

The year was 2004 and the Olympic Games were in full swing in Athens, Greece. Dr. Park was on the faculty at the University of Arizona, a professor in the Department of Ophthalmology.

“My first son had just been born, and so I was at home during the Olympic Games,” Dr. Park said. “I ended up watching the archery that summer.

“It was a sport I had always wanted to do, but I'd never had the chance to be in the right place at the right time with the right coach. I knew the coaching was going to be critical for learning the sport well. So, watching the Olympic Games, I got inspired.”

The first step was to seek out a coach. Being at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Dr. Park took it upon himself to stop by PSE Archery and introduced himself to veteran Olympic coach Alexander Kirillov.

“I asked him if he'd ever taught anybody my age to shoot well, to which he said no," Dr. Park began. "And I said, was it possible? And he said he didn't know. And I said, are you willing to try? He said yes."

And so Dr. Park began working with Coach Kirillov, learning how to shoot Olympic recurve archery.

“Fast forward 10 years,” Dr. Park continued. “My kids are older, and they have grown up watching me shoot and my oldest son decided he wanted to start to learn archery as well.

“So, Coach Alexander and I started to work with him, and I started to get into the coaching side. And in the meantime, what had transpired in between was that I really fell in love with the sport of archery. I think it's an incredible sport.

“I think that it is a really interesting combination of the physical and mental. It is a sport I really enjoy and I continually learn at this sport, and that's one of the pieces that's really fascinating for me.

“When my kids started to be interested in archery, I essentially stopped competing. I did not stop shooting but stopped competing and started to get into the coaching side of things.”

That brought its own set of challenges as there was not a competitive archery, Olympic-style archery program in the local area. So, after several years of borrowing space and trying to make things work, it was decided they would need their own facility and club.

By this time there were a group of like-minded parents who were interested in not only introducing their children to archery but to have them learn the sport as well as possible. And so, around five-and-a-half years ago, Asheville Archery Training Center (AATC) was opened, providing a 30-meter indoor range.

Laura Lawrence has been board president of AATC for 18 months and involved in the program since 2019. She said, “At his core he loves people and loves helping support their personal growth and sees archery as a vehicle for excellence and developing skills like persistence, resilience, and perseverance.

“What I find especially inspiring and aligned with my values is that Coach Park believes high success/achievement is a tangential effect of focusing on everything BUT medals and 10’s.

"Coach Park has implemented intentional weekly activities such as organizing strength building and aerobic exercises and supporting the mind/body connection through having both the archers and parents learn HeartMath.

“When the kids are doing the pushups, I will often walk in and find him doing pushups,” Ms. Lawrence continued. “He starts every practice with HeartMath. And if that is not all enough, he has mastered tuning, bow setup, string making, and equipment recommendations at very high level - all excellence and a reflection of the very fiber of his being.”

Coach Bob Park said, “To really help somebody to succeed, I think that it takes real work on an individual basis to really understand each athlete, to understand how they work both physically and mentally, to understand what their bodies can feel, to understand how their mental game, their thought process interacts with the way that they shoot.

"And so, very early on, I decided I did not want to have a huge program, but I wanted to work really closely with the archers that I had as students.

"That's really where the club has landed. We have a relatively small club, about 20-25 members. And everybody gets really individualized training. We work with them, with who they are, where they are, what their desires are and what their goals are.

“That's really been my approach, to really work very closely with the individual from all different aspects of the sport, helping them to understand their body, to understand their mind; helping them to understand how both training and nutrition and mental training can all combine to help them to be successful in whatever they do.”

Park has held the vision from day one that he wanted the training center to be a place for community, for a group of archers to learn elite archery skills together in a safe environment, supporting this with both his time and resources.

“It has been incredible to watch him with the kids on the team - he gives them his full attention and is committed to supporting both their archery and personal journeys,” Ms. Lawrence added. “He is a full-time retina surgeon and still gives over 12 hours per week to support the archery program.

“He could be doing any number of other activities in his personal time, and instead he is at the training center 5 days per week almost every week supporting both our member programs and the beginner classes. He holds space with a powerful presence that is both clear and one of high standards while at the same time being kind and compassionate.”

Recognized for his work in developing athletes in the sport of archery Coach Park, once inspired by the Olympic Games, is now inspiring the next generation.

“I think the awards are nice to have,” he said. “It's nice to have some recognition. I have to say that I was quite surprised that I got selected because there are an awful lot of really good coaches out there.

“But I think that my definition of success is when I can send one of my archers out into the world and typically it's as they head off to college and I can see them grow from being a young person who is perhaps not very outgoing, or unsure of themselves and to send them out there with the mental tools and the physical tools to be able to be successful in whatever they do.

“And archery, if it's done right, develops an incredible mental toughness and people know that if they work hard enough, they will be successful in whatever they do.”

As Dr. Park, the two-time award winner, literally helps people see again. As Coach Park, he opens the eyes of his athletes and allows them to see their potential, whether it be as an archer, a student or as a young adult contributing to society.

A humble man, Robert Park pours a huge amount of credit on his friend and mentor Alexander Kirillov, pays tribute to his wife – who is also a physician – for the help she lends on the mental side of coaching side, and offered gratitude to USA Archery Director of Education, Guy Krueger, for the direction he is taking the education of coaches.

Being presented with two awards is testament to Coach Park’s dedication, not only to his athletes but also to the sport, a sport he fell in love with 20 years ago, while watching the man he refers to as his archery hero, Richard ‘Butch’ Johnson, a five-time Olympian.

And that brings us to where does he go from here?

“Well, I will continue to teach and train archers as I have been, but I would really love to be able to send one of my archers to the Olympic Games. That would be a fantastic achievement.”

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