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What words can I possibly share with you, to convey the absolute madness and melodrama of today's two matches? The crushing self-defeat at the end of my semi-finals shootoff. The emotional 180 I had to pull in order to compete well in the bronze match. The sublime moment of victory. The reeling out-of-body experience of the medal ceremonies. The constant high that I've been on ever since.

It is well past two in the morning and I'm still wired. It's strange to think that at the beginning of this very long day, I did not have a clue what pain and pride awaited me. I did not have a medal. And that perhaps is the strangest part—this thing that I'm still wearing around my neck, it has a weight to it, a gravity of its own. I have grown so attached to it in the hours since it was put around my neck, that I find it easy to imagine that I've had it all along.

To begin with, I was well rested. Practice shots felt really good, really focused.. My first match against the top-ranked Korean archer began with an unusual calm in the pit of my stomach, which I can scarcely account for. I was nervous all right, but it was easier to control with some steady breathing routines. To be perfectly honest, I don't remember much of the match. I wish I could give you a play-by-play, but all I really remember was that I was adjusting my sight a lot without much change to show for it, very frustrating. By the time the match came to a close, I was down a few points, and trying to finish strong. My opponent had a weak shot at the end, which opened the door for me. We tied with scores of 101.

In archery, ties are decided by up to three shootoffs. Ours was determined fairly quickly. The Korean lady faltered again, shooting a seven. I can remember thinking, "The door is wide open! Just shoot a strong shot and you've got this!" I waited for my 10-second comfort zone, drew back, and… well, I don't really know what caused me to letdown with mere seconds left on the clock. Perhaps it was nerves. Perhaps it was confusion. Perhaps it was abject terror.

Well, whatever the cause, the result was pretty heartbreaking. I did make the shot, in roughly four seconds. Unfortunately, I shot a completely inadequate six. Tears leapt to my eyes and I felt my throat close up immediately, as if a tiger had attacked my jugular. I couldn't move for a few moments, couldn't do anything but stand there stunned with my hopes half shattered at my feet and knowing it was my fault they were broken.

Naturally, because life is mad and sport is cruel, within mere minutes of this drama, I was escorted off Court B, and to the other side of the venue to Court A for the bronze medal match.

If nothing else, I am incredibly proud of my recovery today. I went from absolute self-dejection to focused and ready to shoot to win a medal, all within the space of minutes. As soon as I came off that field, I felt my face crumple into sobs. As we entered the back tunnel, I forced them out in quick succession, drawing out my tears as if I were squeezing a lemon with a hand full of cuts. It hurt, but it was what I needed to do. Sort of like a field dressing is a quick and dirty job of something that ought to be donein a hospital by a professional… I crammed an hour-long therapy session into the space of minutes, without asking our sports psychologist to help talk me through it. When I came out of the other end, I had composed myself and wiped away the tears. I locked up the memory of the letdown and subsequent crushing defeat, and stuffed it into the back of my head with a "no touchie" sign on it. With the bad emotions drained off, I knew some measure of calmness.

Even as I felt a fuzzy emptiness creep through me, I desperately stuffed myself full of determination. No time for stupid thoughts about what I didn't do—don't think about it, just focus, just keep focusing on the here and the now and the incredible arrows I'm about to shoot. I need to win this medal. I can't let up. I have to bring it back.

All this took the space of minutes. By the time I set foot on the crowd-packed Court A, I was able to invoke a genuinely-felt winning smile and a few waves for the crowd. I even made eye-contact with some friends and family, instead of hanging my head in shame or making sheepish gestures.

I am so proud of that turn-around. Our sports psychologist told me later that he'd never witnessed anything like it. Which I am going to take as a compliment to my recovery ability, and not a consideration of the amount of drama I always manage to bring about.

I did really well on the bronze medal match. It gives me shivers to think about it, and I don't even remember details, just that I kept my focus and shot well. The only part I really remember was the final arrow. I'd been keeping my eyes on my clock, and my friendly little dot. This was fine, except that the clocks had been changed, and moved off to the sides. So now when I glanced at my timer, my eyes happened to graze across the bottom of the electronic scoreboard, which helpfully read "5 to win," meaning that I needed to score a measly five or higher in order to walk away with my first medal ever.

The memory of my recent heartbreaking six was locked away in my brain. I had a job to do, and that job was to shoot my best. I knew my best had to be better than a five. No pressure, right? I can remember the numb sensation in my hands, as if I had absorbed so much adrenaline I could no longer really feel myself.

Well. I really wish I'd finished with a ten, but I shot a nice, boring eight. I even gave a small shrug, it was so anticlimactic. At least eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, right? Then the whistle blew and it hit me like a bucket of happy-water, drenching me from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Holy COW, I won a medal! Me! Little Miss ranked 12th in the Qualifier. Little Miss "I've had target panic so bad that for the past few years I've had to convince myself repeatedly that the target isn't going to bite me." Little Miss "I had to lay out all last summer because my back hurt so much to shoot that I couldn't get more than a dozen arrows off in a single practice." Me! I had a medal! Did the sky turn green? Did they get the wrong person? How is this possible?

I raised the bow up to acknowledge my victory, and the moment of exultation I felt was just as sublime as the moment at Opening Ceremonies. It took me the better part of five or ten minutes to truly understand what had happened, and my coaches actually had to order me to sit down before I fell down. I think if our head coach hadn't been reminding me to breathe, I might have forgotten that part, as well.

I had about ten or fifteen minutes to change into the red and navy blue medal stand uniform, comb my hair, and touch up my makeup. The medal ceremony took a while to prepare, and while we were waiting, I was just buzzing along like a bee in a poppy field—absolutely bouncing with giddiness.

The medal ceremony itself went off without a hitch, although there was a moment when I first stepped up to my podium that I could have sworn I was about to pass out. I got very light-headed and lost orientation for a few scary-exhilarating seconds, but I managed to not faint or fall over, so I think I did well overall. I even remembered to put my hand on my heart, even though they weren't playing the US National Anthem. I don't even remember what Korea's song sounds like, I was so busy trying to assimilate the new addition to my jewelry collection.

I am so proud to be here, representing my sport and my country to the best of my ability. I truly cannot put into words what this medal means to me. One thing is for sure, though. It's not leaving my side for a week or two. Mine, no touchie! ;)

I won't say that I don't feel a small regret at that six during the shootoff. I could have a silver or a gold right now, if it weren't for that shot. I know I am capable of far greater things than a six.

But maybe it is enough, to know my capabilities, to have earned my own self-respect. I met my original goal, after all, the one I set for myself when I had a back injury and could hardly bear to think of the mental stress of elite competition. I wanted to be proud of myself as I left the field. I had succeeded in that beyond my wildest hopes! Bronze is the hardest medal to win, the one that is the most earned. I worked hard for this thing, and even with my regret from the shootoff I don't think I would trade it for anything else. Besides, it wasn’t just work. I really had to fight for my bronze. That always makes it better, in the end. Is there anything truly worth having, if you don't sacrifice some part of yourself to obtain it? I gave up so much, I fought hard, and here it is.

And yes, it is shiny!


A few sport quotes that I felt were appropriate at different points of today:

"It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired -you quit when the gorilla is tired."

Robert Strauss

"Concentration is the ability to think about absolutely nothing when it is absolutely necessary."

Ray Knight

"Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it."

George Halas


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
Your mental and emotional discipline amaze me. I am in awe of your strength in pulling it together so completely. You may take your place at the poker table with the murderball players, for you are as much of a badass as any of them!
Sep. 14th, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)
Lindsey, My Hero, You Rock!
I can't wait to see you. These old arms are aching to give you a hug. You are a champion in the eyes of the world and an inspiration to many. You worked hard, you endured, and you can claim your victory for not only yourself but for all of America. I am proud to claim your victory with you.
Chef David
Sep. 14th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
Lindsey here's a little something I published this morning in awe of your story.

Sep. 15th, 2008 03:37 am (UTC)
You can haz Beijing Bling!
Sep. 25th, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC)
I'm Erin Mickelberry's mom, and have watched you at various tournaments and have been following (along with our entire family) you in Beijing.. I've only just now figured out how to congratulate you. We are all very excited for you and your family!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )