Lisa “Lia” Coryell will represent Team USA at the Rio Paralympics in September 2016.
Lia is a U.S. Army veteran who shoots a compound bow from a wheelchair. She will shoot in the “W1” category, a category for archers with some sort of disability that affects both their upper and lower body. She is the first U.S. archer to compete in this category.
After living with multiple sclerosis for nearly three decades, Lia’s disease worsened a few years ago and left her in a wheelchair. Then she discovered archery and, in just 14 months of training, qualified for the U.S. Paralympic team.
WHERE SHE CAME FROM
“I am probably this country’s oldest private. I joined the Army my senior year of high school. I had difficulty with balance and coordination, and couldn’t safely fulfill my military duties so I was medically retired at 19 years old. It was a huge disappointment. I felt like a failure and a loser. Then the doctors discovered that my neuro issues were due to multiple sclerosis plaques in my brain. Bummer all the way around.”
HOW SHE GOT STARTED
Lia attended a sports-clinic camp for wounded veterans two years ago, which gave her a new focus:
“Every day we tried different adapted sports – sailing, kayaking, hand cycling, judo, track and field, surfing, and archery. This camp was pivotal in my life. For the first time in many years I was not considered a ‘patient.’ I was an ‘adaptive athlete.’ That semantic switch in my brain not only changed my life, it saved it. Later, I was invited to an archery clinic for injured or wounded military. I was hooked.”
HOW SHE GOT THERE
Her roommate at the sports clinic was Samantha Tucker, an Air Force veteran who lost her left hand and forearm in a motorcycle accident. Sam was similarly hooked on archery, and the women made a pact:
“Our first goal was to make the national team. The second goal was to make the world team. The third goal was to make the Paralympic team, and from the start there was no turning back.
“We realized that if we were to be successful we would have to move away from distractions so we could focus on our training. Due to the level of impairments I have, I would never have been able to make that move on my own. We moved to Colorado Springs in January 2015 and trained hardcore – in the snow, in the rain, in the mountains with rattlesnakes and mountain lions, and in the desert with more rattlesnakes and lizards.
“I was very sick. My stomach stopped digesting food, so Sam would make bone broth and boiled eggs. We were investing all our money in equipment, training and travel to make the team.
“We were two middle-aged, hard-headed, tenacious and goal-driven women. It was brutal. But within seven months we had both made the U.S. Para team, the Para PanAm team, and the World team.”
HOW SHE QUALIFIED
“Shooting at the World Championships in Donaueschingen, Germany, in a mixed team with Jeff Fabry – World Champion and Paralympic gold medalist. We were seeded last, but we won two elimination matches, ended up fourth, and secured Team USA spots for the Paralympics. But I still had to earn my spot on the team through competition at our USA trials this summer.”
(Sam also made the U.S. Paralympic team!)
WHO SHE IS GOING TO MAKE PROUD
“My 75-year-old mother wears my Olympic training center ID badge on a lanyard around her neck. She will take it out and show it to anyone and everyone who will listen. I come from a very large family and they have been super supportive! My former student-veterans, and military brothers and sisters have been outstanding, too.”
WHAT SHE HOPES TO ACHIEVE IN THE SAMBODROMO
“I will bring American pride and honor to the field in the Sambodromo and leave knowing that I gave it everything I have.”
WHAT CAN YOU TAKE FROM ARCHERY INTO EVERYDAY LIFE?
“I have learned to focus on the here and now, and give up the anxiety and stress of what has already happened or what lies in my future. I cannot change the arrows I have already shot, and it’s a waste of time and energy to worry about the arrows in my future. I can only focus on the arrow I have right now, and make sure it has my time and attention so that it will achieve what I need it to do.
“I have no fear of dying, and now, I am not afraid to live anymore, either.”
WHAT SHE LOOKS FORWARD TO MOST ABOUT RIO
“I think the festive atmosphere is exciting. I love the dancing and music. And fruit!”
Watch Coryell represent Team USA at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Sept. 7-18. Check out NBC’s full broadcasting schedule here, then tune into the archery action to see who brings home archery gold.