Denise Parker: A Teenage Archer's Quest for Olympic Glory
by Denise Parker With Kathy Etling

Review by A.Ron Carmichael

This book fills in a huge gap for me, and hits home as close as two X10s kissing in the 10 ring.  It is not a true autobiography in the sense of the word, though.  It reads more as an "as told to" kind of book. 

I found archery about 10 years ago, in 1997, when my middle-school daughter asked me about the sport and whether it was something she could do from her wheelchair. I have a Boy Scout's Eagle rank from when I was 17, and it included an archey merit badge, but it also included nothing of special merit regarding the sport from my perspective. I was too intent on getting the Eagle to stop and smell the arrows along the way. I had no idea, when at the U of Texas, that archery was going on in the building right next to the pharmacy building, so I was clueless about it.  What a great sport I missed!   I now view this lack of knowing of archery as one of the biggest regrets in my life, one of the "most wanna go back and do different" items in a long, long list of such things.

So when Lindsey asked, archery was totally new to me but I seized with both hands the chance to be able to share a sport with my daughter and have since done everything I can to enjoy the ride, and to pay back to the sport for my ticket to those who enabled the trip.  The list is long, in chrono order:  Racae and Alex Meyer first and foremost as her JOAD coaches, Kelly Shand(thanks for what an anchor is!), Jamie Loesch, Jim Krueger, Tom Barker, Tim Strickland, Jack Milchanowski, Tom Parrish, and of latest import since just before the Athens Para games, Don Rabska (without whom she would NOT have made the games!)

I have an "immersive" personality - when I want to do or learn about something, I immerse myself in it totally, opening myself up to every avenue of information, sponging it up and sometimes only belatedly assimilating facts into coherent knowledge.  In trying to learn archery skills and to mentor my daughter I used every avenue and source I could find. Over the years I've taken her to as many coaches as I thought would benefit her (and me), including one mentioned in the book (Tim Strickland).  So I've kinda got the merit badge, been there, done that.  And I've been lucky enough to find and establish a great relationship with the best coach in the world, as far as Lindsey and I are concerned (Don Rabska).  Wisdom, perception, insight, and mental acuity - he defines what kind of coach I hope to be some day.

In my quest for saggitarial knowledge I heard and read some about Denise Parker, the amazing prodigy who had (by out onset) seemingly vanished from the sport. I always wondered why. I wondered if she fell into some trap that my daughter might someday find as well. I have had some notion of this, having seen a number of other JOAD archers, especially young ladies, fall into this vanishing point akin to a black hole, much as kids might leave never-never land for the world of grown-ups.  I've suspected their discovering awareness of self actually destroys their blissfully ignorant unconscious ability (the subconscious is SUCH an important part of archery excellence).

After reading this book, I now know a lot more about Denise, and even more than before about the pitfalls that young archers, particularly females, are at risk of.  At risk from success, from fame, from parents, from peers, from themselves.

Not that I was not already pretty well aware of say, the danger of a dad coaching a daughter in *any* sport with a competitive nature. Fortunately archery is not a "high-stress" competitive sport unless you really go out of your way to coach it as such.  One marvel I had early on was in Utah (a coincidence!) where Lindsey's second tournament was the JOAD Nationals, where for the first time I witnessed JOAD parents in action - helping their kids' competitors to be better archers, fix broken kit, in other words being NOT little league-mentality parents!

I think that so far I've been able to walk the fine line between the mentoring of a child by a parent and of an athlete by a coach, without losing the special relationship that develops between a father and daughter. For those that like music, I should say now that Loudon Wainwright's DAUGHTER is my heartsong, it is as though he wrote it and plays it just for Lindsey and me....so play it while you read the rest of this review, and then go buy the album. My unwillingness to the the type of coach referred to as the "dictator" MAY have decreased her success to some point, but it certainly has NOT decreased her happiness and satisaction over her accomplishments and potential.

Hopefully now knowing where I am coming from, you can get a better perspective on my review of this book. I was a little disconcerted by the voice of the narrative - it's not really the voice of Denise, except in the photo captions, when it is first person Denise. So it is not truly an "autobiography" despite the title.  But it sounds at times like she wrote it and the editor or ghost writer/contributor just changed the "I"s to "her" and "she" and watered down the honest emotions - it detracts from the message at times and dilutes the power somewhat.   I was hoping and expecting something more, well, personal. Not that she is not quoted extensively, but the read is more like a newspaper article, or rather, a series of articles, and she seems to hover just below the surface of many parts, never quite breaking through to the first person voice that would have been more, well, personally expressive and enlightening.  Having been so over-exposed to the world while just an adolescent young lady I can understand her reticence to expose her feelings, but well, dang.  Us Americans are vicarious at times.

Denise has always been a mystery to me - someone who was literally the best in the US, if not the world, at her age of 14 or so, yet by the time that my daughter and I gained "awareness" in the archery world, she was totally gone.We JUST missed her!   I was constantly looking for people that Lindsey would be able to relate to, to look up to, to emulate, and I was baffled - what ever happened to Denise? Well, now I know. This book does an excellent job (for being in the passive voice) of giving insight into what happened, and I'm very glad to have this book.

I found that some of what she reveals about children archers, I had already grasped. Lesson one, kids can shoot incredibly well because they are not told that they cannot. They simply don't know any better than to subconsciously shoot well, to act naturally.

In other words, if you support your kid wholeheartedly and enable them, many if not most will have an innate ability to shoot well, consistently, with only the basic form instruction. This I have seen time and again at JOAD tournaments, where some kid will show up totally new and with no track record, and shoot so blithely and unconsciously well that all marvel at his/her ability and marvel at how well she does.  And then a short time later, the wonderkid has either deteriorated into a drudging archer who is miserable thanks to a coach who ruined her, or else has dropped out, vanished from the sport forever after becoming aware of the mechanics of the shot that cancelled out all or part of the natural excellence. This book reinforces to me what I have observed time and again, and I am comforted by the notion that Denise went through this phase and was able to emerge on the other side of the awareness wall with her sanity, pride, and sense of self-worth.  (And well she should!)  

Her competitive history is truly fascinating, and I enjoyed reading the path she took and about the other players in her world while she was on her odyssey. I do wish that she had been writing the book with more "flesh" of the personalities of those teammates and competitors that she knew. I bet a second volume could be written of just the descriptions of her friends/competitors/teammates/coaches, anecdotes about their competitions especially in head to head events. There is bound to be a lot of enjoyment and education that would come from reading of those social dynamics.  It would also reveal a *lot* about some of the "coaches" who were on international trips with her, as well.

As the father and coach of a paralympian, I found the fact that her first regular shooting club was The Utah Wheelchair Archers something to chuckle over (and hello, Randi and Larry Smith!!!!). Imagining what it would be like if Denise had also been in a wheelchair - there is no prohibition for a wheelchair archer from winning a spot on the (able-bodied) olympic team for a country, and she surely could have done it. (note - in the history of the modern olympiad (since 1972 when archery was once again allowed as an olympic sport) there have been THREE athletes to represent their country in both olympic and paralympic teams, even back-to-back in the same summer, though none of them have been Americans). One, Italian Paola Fantato, I was able to meet and thank at the IPC world archery championships in Madrid, Spain in 2003 during what was one of the worst times in my life.  Meeting her was a privilege and an honor and a contrasting highlight I will always remember. 

If one of the goals of the writers of the book is to provide insight to a parent of an archer, then it reaches that goal in several ways. If it is provide caution to young archers about the perils of letting a parent double as a coach, that is in there was well. If Denise wanted to explain what drove her, motivated her, at different points on her Olympic Odyssey, I feel she did that as well but not in her voice as much as one would have hoped. I remain sorely disappointed that I came too late to the sport to witness her when she was competing. I feel sure I could have learned by just observing her shoot and I know it would have been fun. I still hope to meet her and sit down with her to chat in a meaningful way for oh, I don't know, maybe 12 hours?

I should also say I remain hopeful that she will someday pick up the competiton bow yet again, if only to shoot for the sheer joy of it. I know of several archers that were at the pinnacle of the sport, put the bow down for one reason or another (gee, it seems almost all of the reasons were some really negative personal event), and then decided that their life had in it's core foundation the sport of archery, and they returned to the active sport. Some still had enough fire to fight back to their pervious level of excellence or even better, and some just couldn't reconnect to that subconscious place their arrows flew from before. I have always just wished to see her shoot, for the fun of it. This book will do until that day.

A.Ron Carmichael, aka TexARC
1/3/2008

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ISBN 978-0-9795131-1-4 $19.95
Woods N Water Press

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