Author: Jill Marucut
Senior Ashlee Sheppard is not your typical college athlete. As an archer, the competitions she attends don’t get posted in the school bulletin. Her sport is rarely even offered at the high school or college level, but despite its relative obscurity, archery has become an integral part of Sheppard’s life.
Sheppard first became aware of archery in her junior year of high school when she saw the sport advertised in a magazine while on a road trip with her parents. “I was attracted to the ad because I thought archery was something unusual and probably something I could do,” Sheppard said.
Her interest in archery only grew from there. She took archery classes in high school, but eventually quit after realizing she didn’t have enough time to fully commit to the sport.
However, her love for archery was revived after she came to Occidental and discovered the Pasadena Roving Archers, an archery range near the Rose Bowl. Since she already had all the equipment, Sheppard decided to pursue archery once again, in a more serious way.
Sheppard suffers from peripheral neuropathy, and as a result, cannot play many traditional sports. Though she managed to overcome her restrictions and briefly play water polo in high school, she ultimately had to quit.
Thus archery has become a solution and an inspiration. Archery is a non-contact sport Sheppard has been able to partake in consistently, satisfying her desire to compete in a team sport.
Sheppard maintains that archery is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. “Physically, you have to be able to pull back the bow, and you have to have strength in your arms, but it’s mostly a mental game. You have to stay focused,” she said.
Despite the mental strain that comes with each archery competition, Shepard thrives on the challenges the sport presents. “Part of competition is [going] head to head, and they put you in a bracket, and you shoot against one person, and you have that one shot,” she said. “It depends on what round of the tournament it is, but you have 12 arrows to prove that you’re better than this person, so it’s a lot of pressure.”
Usually, Sheppard competes as a single-person team from Oxy, but this summer she was asked to shoot with the United States Para Archery team in the European Grand Prix in England. “After the European Grand Prix, I realized how much I loved the intense atmosphere of an international competition and am excited to see how far I can take my archery skills,” she said.
Sheppard values the camaraderie she discovered while playing with fellow para-athletes, and she continues to shoot with them. “After meeting with the para-team, and knowing how inspirational they are, I feel like it’s cool to associate with them and be one of their teammates,” she said.
Sheppard and her team also received jersies from USA Archery, which instilled a sense of patrotism within them. “[I felt like] I was not only doing the sport I love, but also representing my country,” she said.
Sheppard is extremely motivated by her teammates, none of whom attend Oxy. Some of her teammates shoot with their teeth because they are missing limbs. Others are Iraq war veterans who were permanently injured during battle.
Still, they all do what it takes to practice archery because they love it. Sheppard cannot help but be amazed at the physical disabilities her teammates have had to overcome. She often marvels at their dedication and determination.
“The team [consists of] the most inspiring people I’ve ever met,” Sheppard said. “These people have overcome really hard obstacles […] they’ve been my motivation.”
Sheppard also embraces the accessibility of archery. This past weekend, she met a man at a tournament who has no arms and yet participates by shooting with his foot and releasing the arrow with his chin. Sheppard loves that anyone can do archery in any way that he or she wants to.
“Archery is really unique,” she said. “Everybody’s bow might have the [same] basic model, but everyone has their different preferences, like how much weight you can put on it.”
Appreciating the competition, the challenge and her inspiring teammates, Sheppard is focusing on archery as much as she can for the time being. “I only have one tournament a month right now, [but] second semester I’ll probably have at least two tournaments a month,” she said.
“Now that I’m a senior, it’s my last year to really make my move.”
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