Mackenzie Brown, 24, will embark on her second Olympic journey when setting her sights on Tokyo in July. She grew up around bowhunting, but originally thought swimming would guide her Olympic path. But then she discovered how far archery could take her.
“When I found out that archery was in the Olympics, that instantly got me hooked,” Brown said.
Brown made it to the Olympics for the first time in 2016. But it was never easy. “Practice more” is always sound advice for athletes, especially Olympians.
“There’s nothing like practice to help you get better,” Brown said. “There’s nothing like time behind the bow and visualization. Being patient with yourself is a huge tip. Everybody has a path they have to follow to reach their peak. Be patient with that. I hate being patient with the process, but it takes time behind the bow. It takes trust in yourself, and what you must do to get there.”
Archers should strive to stay mentally and physically strong. Brown agrees both are core fundamentals for accurate shooting.
“Trust yourself, and trust that everything happens for a reason,” Brown said. “Watch the top archers on YouTube. It tells you they’re doing things this way, and that’s the way you must approach things physically. Many people have their own ways to think about technique, but a lot of the top archers have similar techniques.”
Watching professional archers helps you distinguish fundamentals from personal strategies. “A lot of them have similar foundations for their shot,” Brown said. “If you’re talking about bone alignment with their upper body, or elbow alignment behind the arrow, a lot of approaches are different, but the end result is similar.”
After years on the range and watching archers, Brown said people are her favorite part of archery. “Everyone is really excited when they come to a competition, especially people who are starting out,” Brown said. They see archery as something you can take further than just your local competitions. I enjoy seeing it in faces. A kid will come up to talk to me or ask a question, and you can see the light in their eyes. They’re excited about this sport.”
Her profile is increasingly public, too, so Brown receives attention at tournaments. “Somebody will turn say, ‘That’s Mackenzie Brown,’ and it’s super cool,” Brown said. “It’s humbling, for sure, to not just take it and run with it. I’m just excited and thankful that others look up to me.”
Brown strives to do her best at every tournament. “I have my mental process that goes hand in hand with my physical process,” she said. “If I’ve been to that [particular] event before, I’ll visualize how it’s going to be on that stage and scenario,. A lot of it is trusting that I’ve practiced. It’s a routine. If you think of gymnastics, they work their floor routine and do the same floor routine over and over. It’s the same with archery. You have your process, you have your routine, and you have the mental strategy that goes with that. You don’t have to deviate. You just do your routine.”
If your routine isn’t working and you’re in a rut, patience is the best way to get out of it. “Ruts are everyone’s worst enemy, but they can be the most humbling and best learning experiences,” Brown said. “Failure is the best way to learn. A lot of times we fail, and it’s for a reason. If you take it as a learning experience, you will learn. But if you take it as a failure, it’s going to keep you in that rut.”
Find things that make you happy and incorporate them into your routine to keep your practice sessions fun. Brown tries to include music in her daily archery routine. “I love listening to music, all kinds of music,” she said. “Country is my top, as far as genre. I also listen to a lot of classic rock, a lot of pop, all kinds of stuff. It’s something that helps me get in the groove, relax and let go of some pre-competition stress. Everybody goes through that and needs to de-stress.”
The music she plays at the range depends on the day and her mood. “Some days you need a little more ‘get up and go’ with some harder rock or rap,” Brown said. “Some days you’re just chilling, so you get a little Jack Johnson or something like that in there.”
Brown acknowledges that her family and friends loom large in the process. They know how badly she wants to extend her Olympic path, and they encourage her.
“I take archery very seriously,” Brown said. “It’s my lifestyle. It’s something I do every day, and I’m very passionate about it. I’ve put a lot of personal life stuff on hold to achieve my dream because the Olympics are big. The Olympics take a lot of dedication and effort. I’ve put a lot of things on hold, but I’ve had a crazy great support team. My family and friends are really supportive. They know this is what I want, and I want it badly. That’s super important to me to have that support structure.”
Brown recalls the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio as she looks ahead to 2020. “It’s all a big blur,” she said. “I go back and think about it a lot. I love so many different aspects of it. The Olympics’ opening ceremony has got to be the top; walking in and feeling the whole nation is there with you, chanting, going into the stadium. That experience is something I’ll always carry with me. And just getting to hang out with my teammates and getting to enjoy that time there.”
Her dedication to archery won’t stop with the Olympics. She plans to coach archery, too. “I’m passionate about the next generation of archers,” Brown said. “The path I took was unique, but it takes a lot of people to the Olympics. I want to make that the most positive, encouraging and easy track to follow for people pursuing the Olympics. Not easy to do, but easy as in the right way to get where they want to go. I see all the people who come up and talk to me. I want them to have a bright future. They have that passion I started with and still have.”
Brown advises aspiring archers to trust their instincts. “Stick with it, and do what feels right in the moment,” she said. “There are lots of choices to make. What bow do you shoot? What coach do you go with? Make the best decisions you can at that time, and let it ride. You can always look back and say, ‘I wish I would’ve done something different,’ but you have to make the most of what you’ve got. Don’t give up if you get into a rut, or you get into something that feels too hard. Take a second, breathe, and figure it out. Taking a break is not a bad thing. Taking a chance to get back into your groove. That’s certainly not a bad idea.”
Keep your eye on Brown this summer during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The archery competition begins July 24.