I’m sitting here in the airport in Toronto waiting for the last leg of our flight home. It’s Monday afternoon on August 31 and I have a lot to reflect on.
The bus came at 4:00 this morning to take us to the airport in Zurich. It took Courtney and I 2 hours to get all checked in, including checking baggage, checking in my over-sized bow case, paying for my over-size bow case, going through Customs and then through security. Our flight left at 9:30 and we landed in Toronto at around 12:00 Toronto time. We went through Customs here which took a while, had lunch, and now have about 45 minutes until we begin about a 6 hour flight to San Francisco.
The last couple days of competition got pretty busy, so I wasn’t able to update my blog. So here goes… Hopefully I can get this all written by the time we land in San Francisco.
Saturday was a very successful day for the US men’s compound teams. They won gold medals in both their matches. If you get a chance, you really need to check out their matches on YouTube’s World Archery page. You will be amazed at the top notch performances by all four teams and I think a bit surprised at the adaptive techniques used by the archers.
In-between rooting on our teams at their medal matches, Courtney and I met up with a few of the visually impaired archers and the officials to practice the format we would be using for our medal matches on Sunday. They wanted to be sure we understood how it would work. The fact that the finals are televised on archery TV made it important that we all were comfortable with it. Steve Prouse from Great Brittan, Claudio Peruffo from Italy and I were the only visually impaired archers who showed up. We set up on the practice field and the officials explained to us how the matches would work. They wanted to be sure everything ran efficiently because of the live-streaming on YouTube. The clock would be set for 20 seconds. The archers would alternate shooting one arrow until each archer had shot three arrows. Then we would pull our arrows and begin again. During the actual medal round, our agent would pull the arrows for us. The official started the clock and each archer’s assistant would tell their archer when it was their turn to shoot and where their arrows were landing on the target. We practiced this for about 45 minutes and everyone was satisfied that it was going to work well.
After the medal ceremony for the team competition in the afternoon, the visually impaired archers were allowed to set up our foot-locators on the actual shooting line for the medal matches on Sunday. We were allowed to sight in, adjust the foot-locators on the line, and then mark the ground where the equipment had been placed. They wanted us to do this because all the medal matches were going to be televised on YouTube, archery TV, and they didn’t want us to take very much time getting set up. They were worried about losing viewers. After sighting in, we had to remove our equipment and hope that the paint would stay and that the targets would be placed back in the exact location on Sunday for our matches. I asked if I could talk to the commentator who sat up in the booth and announced during the match competitions. I wanted to make sure he understood the technique used by archers who are visually impaired to shoot. He came down and we talked for quite a while about it. I told him that we’d be able to shoot 6 arrows before the competition began so that we could verify that our equipment was placed properly on the line. I suggested that this would be a good time to explain to the audience how an archer who is blind sights, describe the adaptive equipment used, and explain why we are shooting before official competition since none of the archers in the other divisions are allowed to do this. He was very happy to learn about it and that made me feel good and confident that he’d represent us properly.
Mark and Kerry and Courtney and I arrived back at the hotel just in time for a special dinner planned by our team manager for the whole team. He had arranged that the restaurant at the hotel would prepare an authentic German dinner for us, reflecting what is eaten by the people in this region. This was no buffet like we had been used to. The salad was fresh, like it had come right out of the garden. The meat was tender and the egg noodles were much different from what we’re used to buying in the store at home. We were able to have one non-alcoholic drink, which was a real treat from the mineral water we’ve been provided all week. The biggest treat of all was that we each could order a dessert from the ice-cream menu. I ordered ice-cream with fresh, warm raspberries that tasted like they’d been picked that day. I’ve never had raspberries so delicious. That was very special and we were all grateful to Phil for arranging it for us.
Just before bed we learned that my medal match on Sunday had been moved up from 3:00, to 1:30 in the afternoon. We decided we would sleep in until 7:00, have breakfast at 8:00, and take the 9:00 bus to the field. Paul Miller, the coach who would be my agent during my match, accompanied us to the field. I wanted to practice for a little while that morning. We set up on the practice field and my shots were really strong and I felt good. We left my foot-locator on the field in case I would have a chance to warm up one more time before the match. Mark and Kerry arrived at the field and we had about a half of an hour to take a walk along the Danube River before lunch. I really wanted to get away to a peaceful place to clear my head and relax, and that was the perfect place to do it. We walked down to the river and marveled at the clear, cool water.
After lunch it was time to move my equipment onto the competition field. My match would be the first match of the afternoon. Courtney placed my equipment on the shooting line, within the marks he had made the evening before and we went back to our tent to wait to be officially called out to the field. That was when I could feel myself getting nervous.
A special moment was when Mark came over to me and gave me a commemorative coin of the Blind Veterans Association for good luck. That meant a lot to me and I put it in my pocket to have with me while I shot my match. I could feel it there and knew Mark was pulling for me. Mark has played a big part in my preparation taking me to this point and I’m grateful for his and Kerry’s continuous support and encouragement. It has been a difficult week for Mark with the problems with classifications and so this was a bitter-sweet moment for all of us.
When we were called to the staging area to get ready to be announced, I told Courtney I needed to stop yawning because if my mom saw that on the broadcast, she’d know I was nervous. That has been my tell-tale sign of being nervous since I was a little kid. If you watched our home movies of me learning to water ski when I was 8-years-old, you would know what I mean. Anyway, I think I was able to control that by sipping on water and taking deep breaths.
Finally the time came and we were called out onto the competition field. My opponent, Rodger, from Great Britain was introduced first and then I was. We walked out with our agents and assistants. My agent, Paul Miller carried my bow and my backup bow and placed them in their spots. My assistant/coach, Courtney, walked me up to my equipment.
The horn sounded and we were able to shoot our first 3 sighting arrows. My first arrow was a total miss, as was my second. My third arrow hit the number above the target. Well, that was quite a first impression I had just made, especially after being introduced as the number 1 ranked VI-1 archer in the world. My teammates were very quiet in the stands. The thing that I’m most amazed about and happy about is that I didn’t let that get to me. I kind of wanted to laugh at the irony of it all. I just knew that all that had to be done was for Courtney to adjust my equipment on the line and it would be lined up better, I had to tighten up my shot, and it all would come together. I think Courtney was as nervous as I was because he didn’t get up to move my stand when the horn sounded. So I said “aren’t you going to move my stand?” And he jumped up and made the adjustment and we were ready to try again.
The three arrows were pulled and the horn went off to shoot the last three sighting arrows. I don’t remember where exactly those three arrows landed, but they were good shots and I was right where I needed to be. That felt so good and gave me such confidence. I was laughing to myself that my teammates were probably very relieved that I got it together. They cheered and I could feel the relief in their cheers.
Then it was time to start the match. As number 1 ranked, I got to choose whether I wanted to shoot first or second. Randi, the head coach had told me that it is best to shoot first, so that is what I told them. In set matches, the archer who shoots the most points after the first three arrows gets 2 points. If there is a tie, each archer gets 1 point. I have no memory of the match except that I had one miss, but the rest of my shots were solid and I felt strong. It felt so good to hear my team rooting for me in the stands. That was really exhilarating since I couldn’t see them. I could hear exactly where they were and felt their enthusiasm. I won the first, second and third shooting ends and won the match 6 to 0. It went so fast! It was so much fun!
I really believe that my training strategy this year paid off and was the reason why I held it together under that kind of pressure. My main goals this year have been: First, to believe in myself. Believe that I knew how to shoot and could do it consistently if I focused. The second goal was to trust my coach. I taught myself to trust what Courtney tells me and not question it. The third thing was working with Tim Fua, my personal trainer. He helped me train my nervous system to fire my muscles and taught me just how powerful my muscles could be. He figured out early on that all my life I had trained myself to have a light touch in everything I do so that I don’t injure myself or break things around me by moving too fast or too strong. I needed to learn how I could use my muscles in a different way for sports. I know this is what kept me strong under the pressure of a quick match, a large audience, that fact that it was being televised, and missing three times right out of the box.
After the match, Courtney pulled my equipment off the line and the head coach, Randi, walked me off the field. She said I was shaking. There were lots of World Archery people and others taking pictures and Randi told me just to stand there and smile.
When I got back to our tent, I heard my text going off on my phone and was so excited to read that my brother Brian and his family and my mom had been able to watch the match live on the internet. Technology is really great!
Then I was able to settle down and get ready to watch our teammate, Eric Benet, shoot his gold medal match in the recurve men’s open competition. His was a pretty spectacular match and he won gold too.
Immediately after Eric’s match was the medal ceremony. Courtney walked me out to the platform and then stood behind us with the other assistants from Great Britain and Australia. The bronze medal went to Hazel from Australia, the silver to Rodger from Great Britain, and then came me. The delegate put the medal around my neck and we did the double cheek kiss. Then a German delegate presented me with a trophy. The most unbelievable part was when they played the National Anthem. I just stood there and marveled at the whole experience. I couldn’t believe that the National Anthem was being played at the medal ceremony for VI-1 archery and it was because of me. It was very moving and I can remember thinking about my dad and I could feel him there experiencing it with me.
The only thing left was to go back to the hotel, try to get some packing done, and get ready for the closing party at the organizer’s hotel in Donaueschingen. The bus picked us up at 7:00 and took us to the party. It was pretty spectacular. There were many rooms set up with different types of food in each. There was Champaign and beer for all who wanted it. There was good water and sodas too. The food was German food, not typical banquet buffet. Very unique sausages, bread, salad and seafood. Mark said it was important to try things you’d never had before. I said he should go right ahead and do that. He tried the eel which he said was slimy on the outside, chewy and kind of like oatmeal on the inside. I told him that was really gross. He said, “yes it is.” I was happy for him to have the experience and not me. Of course, the best part was the Black Forest Cake. I think that was my favorite with the rich chocolate cake and the wonderful fresh cherries.
There were a couple of bands playing. We enjoyed the German band and Courtney and I made a spectacle of ourselves dancing the polka and the waltz in honor of his dad who passed away two years ago.
We mingled a bit and then took the 10:00 bus back to our hotel to finish packing and try to get a few hours sleep before being taken to the airport this morning.
On the bus, Randi Smith (head coach) brought me a certificate she’d been given at the party. It said “Janice Walth established the world record in individual 30 meters-72 arrows, Visually Impaired 1, with a score of 362 points in Donaueschingen (GER) on 24 August 2015.” The team cheered and congratulated me. It was a great moment to share with the whole USA team.
Back at our room, I had a few more hours to listen to the wonderful church bells in the village rung on the quarter hour. It’s really interesting how you become accustom to the bells and actually have to listen for them after a week. I’m going to miss them.
One interesting little observation I’d like to share with you is how different Europeans manage their ventilation in their living environments compared to the States. I can see why we have one of the largest carbon footprints on the planet. The buildings and buses were bearly air-conditioned, if at all. Buildings have wonderful large windows, but nobody opens them. They don’t suffer the heat like we do and don’t need cool, dry facilities. It’s really an eye-opener on how much energy it must take to condition our living spaces to achieve our level of comfort.
Well, that’s about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my time at the World Archery Para Championships in Donaueschingen, Germany. Looking forward to getting home and seeing everyone.
A special thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout the years and especially this year. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your encouragement, enthusiasm and generosity.