It’s the bottom of the ninth. The score it tied, the bases are loaded, there are two outs, and you’re up to bat. The pressure is on. You stare down the pitcher as he winds up. Strike one. Strike two. You’re team’s counting on you. Will you hit the next one? Or will your nervousness render you motionless as another perfect pitch sails right down the middle?
In the archery-world, we refer to that motionless anxiety as “shot choke.” You see your target, you aim, but the arrow won’t land in the middle. The only thing keeping you from arrowing the middle is yourself. All athletes, regardless of the sport, experience some level of nervousness or anxiety. But tough, persevering competitors keep moving forward, hitting the bull’s-eye, and achieving Olympic excellence.
Lindsey Carmichael was diagnosed with McCune Albright Syndrome at age 4. Despite weak spots in her bones that have caused multiple breaks, she has captivated the archery world. She overcame fear, anxiety, injury and “shot choke” to set a world record at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, and she took the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
Let’s look at her journey from a wheelchair to a shot stool to the podium. Carmichael started shooting archery after her eighth-grade math teacher suggested it as a wheelchair-friendly alternative to contact sports. At first, Carmichael wasn’t convinced. Sports had never interested her, but a friend enthusiastically persuaded her to attend her first Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) class in 1998.
“My friend and I could barely hit the broad side of a barn,” Carmichael said. “But we were having so much fun we didn’t care.” Although her friend quit taking archery lessons after two weeks, Carmichael stuck with it. Since then, her persistence and perseverance have driven her to archery success.
Carmichael shot her first tournament at the 1999 Texas State Championships. In 2003 she shot at the IPC World Championships in Spain. A last-minute adjustment to her gear caused increasingly bad shots, declining spirits, and a broken arrow rest. During the tournament’s second day, Carmichael used her backup bow and shot her way to a major comeback.
Carmichael’s performance landed her in three tiebreaker shoot-offs. “The pressure and excitement was electric,” Carmichael said. She took fourth place in the tournament, but felt like she had won because of how far she had come. When the third-place archer couldn’t attend the 2004 Athens games, Carmichael was bumped up to represent Team USA in the 2004 Paralympic Games.
She surprised everyone at those Games, including herself, and set a world record in the qualifying rounds. Unfortunately, a bad match in the official tournament left her with dashed spirits and no medal. Still, she knew her Paralympic journey wasn’t over.
“You’re hooked for life once you’ve experienced the glory of walking into the stadium and the Olympic fanfare as tens of thousands of people cheer ‘USA’ so loudly you can feel it in your bones,” Carmichael said. The 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games were in her sights.
Fast forward to Beijing, where Carmichael overcame a bad case of target panic – also called “shot choke” – to make the U.S. team. After winning her first match on the world’s biggest stage, her doubts resurfaced when her first arrow in the second match hit the target stand. The crowd gasped, but Carmichael focused on finishing strong.
“Even when the numbers add up and there’s no way you can win, finish strong so you can hold your head high,” Carmichael said. “Losing feels bad, but it’s not nearly as bad when you can walk off that field knowing you did your best.”
Carmichael finished strong and won the match, but lost in the semifinals, which meant shooting for bronze. Again, she had to focus and think positively. She approached the bronze-medal final with optimism and won it for Team USA.
“They say bronze is the one you work the hardest to win, and I believe it,” Carmichael said. “I felt like I’d fought tooth and nail to win my matches. Looking back on every step to get there, it felt like an uphill battle for years. I stood on that podium and looked at my friends, family, and teammates, and I felt dizzy enough to fall over. I had done it, finally. Hard work does make a difference. Staying positive can change your life.”
Carmichael faced a host of physical and mental setbacks throughout her archery career, yet emerged triumphant. “There’s probably someone reading this who thinks they wouldn’t be good at archery. Maybe you’re right. But I can promise you that you’ll never know until you pick up a bow and try.”
Carmichael no longer competes but tells her story to inspire others through motivational speaking and writing. “I want to see a young woman rise above the limitations life set before her; watch her strain and strive and grow stronger with each mistake and failure; and watch her surprise herself and achieve things she never thought possible. She’s out there. She might even be reading this right now.”