Someone To Root For

November 6th, 2007at 11:23pm Posted by Eli

And I don’t even really like the Olympics…

Phyllis Shipman did not look like the other athletes attending the United States Olympic Assembly last month in Houston. Neither buff nor sinewy and, at 64, several decades older, Shipman represented the sport of archery at the annual gathering of Olympic stakeholders.

“This is so much fun,” she said, not only about the meeting but about her new life as an elite competitor. Shipman is ranked among the top female archers in the United States and is vying for one of three spots on the 2008 Olympic team.

A retired elementary school principal from Oahu, Hawaii, Shipman said she never thought of herself as particularly coordinated or athletic. She signed up for archery while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania because it seemed the easiest and least sweaty way to satisfy the physical education requirement.

(…)

Thirty years later, in 1997, while accompanying her husband on a business trip, she wandered into a Maui sporting goods store and admired the bows and arrows. “I thought to myself, I used to do this, and maybe, since I was getting close to retirement, it’d be fun to get back into it,” Shipman said.

She bought some used equipment and started shooting on weekends at an Oahu archery range. The other recreational archers there, mostly men, helped her with her form. “I don’t know if it was self-defense or what,” she said.

Within months, she was shooting better than they were and subscribing to archery magazines. One had an ad for a five-day training course at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. She talked her husband into going with her. “I hadn’t left the island in 30 years,” she said.

(…)

Shipman’s coach, M. J. Rogers, said that while her older joints require more exercises for flexibility and range of motion, Shipman’s age carries some advantages.

“Mentally, she’s better off because she’s had a life, career and children, whereas some of the younger ones are setting aside their life — giving up their social life to compete,” Rogers said. “Phyllis is just having fun, so she can relax and focus on her shooting without worrying so much whether she’s up or down on the scoreboard.”

That does not mean she cannot relate to her younger competitors.

“We gave her a hard time when she first moved in,” said Tara Robey, 25, one of four archers Shipman roomed with at the Olympic Training Center in 2003. “And I guess maybe we were thinking she’d be like a mother figure, but we quickly realized she was one of us. We’d joke and maybe think she wouldn’t get it, but she’d keep up and throw something right back at us.

“Phyllis was one of the gang.”

(…)

Shipman is also involved in outreach activities, like visiting critically ill children and their families and helping Hurricane Katrina victims. “I usually get about a 30 percent participation rate but can always count on her to take an extra day to fly in early to help,” Henderson said.

(…)

Whether or not she makes the team, Shipman is enjoying the process. “For so long my life has been around my husband, my children or my school,” she said. “I don’t recall ever developing a part of me.”

She shoots arrow after arrow under a fragrant orange tree in the backyard of her home, which faces Sunset Beach, a popular surfing spot in Oahu.

“I never thought I’d end up in Hawaii and I certainly never thought I’d end up a competitive archer,” she said. “You never know where your path in life will take you.”

Very cool. I really hope she makes it. It reminds me a little bit of how I felt upon getting back into photography, but her skill and commitment to her craft are far beyond mine.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Sports


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