When you were a kid, what did you dream of becoming when growing up? Animal lovers picture themselves as veterinarians. Many children want to be firefighters or police officers.
Either way, childhood dreams change and seldom become realities, unless you’re 27-year-old Heather Koehl.
“When I was 5, I watched the Disney movie ‘Robin Hood,’ Koehl said. “I carried around a toy bow and arrow for six months, and then my mom found an archery shop. I’ve been shooting ever since.”
Koehl’s archery passions quickly turned into bigger dreams. She shot in her first national tournament at age 7, and then set her sights on the world stage. “When I watched the 1996 Olympics, they showed the archery matches on TV. That’s when I got excited and said, ‘I want to do that.’”
And she did. Koehl has been a professional recurve archer since 2008. She was the alternative on Team USA’s Olympic archery squad at the 2012 Games in London, and finished in the top eight during Team USA’s 2016 Olympic trials while attending college full-time.
At the U.S. National Field Tournament in Darrington, Washington, in June, Koehl won gold in the recurve division. “It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I really enjoy field (competition). It’s one of my favorite events because I can feel like I’m Robin Hood. I’m just walking through the woods, shooting at targets.”
The competition featured 24 targets at marked and unmarked distances. “Because some of it is unmarked, it’s more of a challenge than target archery,” Koehl said.
That win will send her to September’s World Field Championships in Italy. “I’m really excited,” Koehl said. “I’ve never been to Italy. I wouldn’t trade anything for what I’ve been able to see and do through archery.”
Competition takes Koehl around the world, but it doesn’t pay her bills. Luckily, Koehl found a way to combine her archery passions with her work by serving as the ATA’s communications assistant. This job helps her boost awareness about the archery and bowhunting industry.
“Ever since I got involved in archery I’ve been part of an amazing sport and group of people,” Koehl said. “When the opportunity came to work in archery, I was ecstatic.”
Her responsibilities include preparing content for the ATA’s websites: ArcheryTrade.org, Bowhunting 360 and Archery 360. She also helps with social-media and public-relations activities, and graphic design projects. “This job helps me stay connected to people I’ve met, and work with them to build archery’s future,” said. “It’s awesome seeing archery grow.”
Koehl loves her job, but it’s not easy working full time while training as a professional archer. Koehl starts each day at 6 a.m. After working a few hours on her computer, she heads to the range to practice. She also weight-trains and works on her cardio several days each week. After she finishes her daily training, she returns to the computer each evening to finish her work. “I’m very disciplined already, but people who want to be dedicated to something like this will find a way,” she said.
Koehl is training hard for the World Field Championships, and she also has her sights set on earning a spot on Team USA for Tokyo’s 2020 summer Olympic Games. “You always have butterflies in your stomach; basically an adrenaline rush,” she said. It’s really cool to see how well you can shoot under pressure. That’s what keeps bringing me back.”
Koehl is passionate about competing, but loves archery’s flexibility to be a different sport for everyone. “As long as people find joy in archery and make it a lifelong choice, that’s going to be the biggest reason people stick around,” Koehl said. “You don’t have to be competitive. It’s just the joy of releasing an arrow and watching it fly to the target.”