Staying on target: Former Olympian Denise Parker hasn't let her sights stray far from the goal
Keith Johnson, Deseret News
OGDEN — Denise Parker never would have earned three trips to the Olympics if she'd let others define her.
"I think growing up there was always someone willing to tell you why you wouldn't succeed," said Parker, who is now the CEO of USA Archery. "It's easy to listen to the things people tell you, but I always tell people, 'If you have a goal, just stay focused on it. Don't let other people tell you what you can do.'"
Her determination and focus earned her three trips to the Summer Games in the sport of archery — 1988, 1992 and 2000. She found the sport thanks to her father's interest in bow hunting.
"I was only 10 years old and I did a lot of stuff with my dad," Parker said. "We camped, fished, hiked and bow hunting was just one more thing."
When her father went to practice shooting, she found out about a Junior Olympic Archery program and signed up. Success fueled her desire to continue in the obscure sport.
"Right off the bat I loved winning," she said. "I was just good at it. I grew to love the sport over time, but at first, I just loved that I was winning."
She won her first state title when she was 11 years old. But since there were few participants, her parents didn't know how gifted she was until the following year. As a 12-year-old she was competing in an indoor competition in which she shot the same distance as the adults.
"My score when I was 12 was higher than all of the women in the competition," she said. "That's when it got a little crazy."
A softball, basketball and soccer player, Parker managed to squeeze in time to practice archery and then spent the summers traveling to competitions.
"It was just really busy," she said. "I would just go from one practice to another."
Her desire to be an Olympian had nothing to do with her success as an archer.
"I wanted to be an Olympian before I ever shot archery," she said. Parker watched the Games, mostly track and field events, and dreamed of representing her country. When she found out about the Junior Olympic Archery program, she saw it as a way to make that dream a reality.
"I was really super competitive," she said. "I saw the Olympics as the ultimate competition."
Her quest to be an Olympian changed a little when she became focused on excelling in her sport.
"It's only every four years," she said. "So I didn't think about it. You're so busy training, trying to make your own team and with trials that you kind of forget almost."
At 14 she made the U.S. Archery team and found herself in Opening Ceremonies in Seoul.
"I got out on that track in opening ceremonies and that's when it really hit me," she said. "It's a really incredible feeling. It's really overpowering."
To this day, the mother of two young boys can summon the emotions that wash over athletes during the Games.
"I cry when I watch the Olympics because I know what it feels like," she said. "I can see their faces. They train so hard and especially when they lose, it's so painful. You can't just say, 'You'll get them next time.' You don't know if you'll ever be back, or if you'll ever be in contention."
Parker knows about adversity. After representing the U.S. in 1988 and 1992, she failed to make the team in 1996.
"At the time I felt pretty bad," she said. "I threw my bow in a corner and didn't touch it for two years."
But in 1998 she returned to the sport she loved, determined to write a different ending to her story as an athlete. She made the 2000 Olympic Team and it turned out to be her best experience. She was 26 at the time.
"I was the right age," she said. "It was just a more enjoyable experience, less pressure and I knew it was going to be my last Olympics."
Parker was already involved in public relations for the sport, and she married Scott Smith that same year. They are the parents of two boys, ages 7 and 5, and she is busy promoting the sport she still loves.
This week is a special one as the city of Ogden hosts the Archery World Cup, a first for the U.S.
"For local archers it's a huge deal," she said of the competition that begins with preliminary rounds on Tuesday at Weber State and finishes Saturday with championships at Lundquist Field. "It's a big deal for USA archery because we don't get them very often."
She credits the Easton Foundation with making it possible for USA Archery to host the event that will feature archers from 35 different countries. Individuals and teams will try to hit a target that is 70 meters away.
"USA Archery is not very big and we don't have enough manpower to put on and host an event like this," she said. "Olympic style archery isn't big in the U.S. We have over 3 million archers, but that's a lot different from this."
She said encourages people to take in some of the preliminary rounds at Weber State just because of the visual feast and energy of the event.
It will be difficult for novices to follow in the preliminary rounds because of the number of archers shooting at the same time.
"The pageantry, the look of it is so cool," she said.
But once the competition moves to Lindquist where two archers square off at a time, it will be very easy to follow and cheer for specific athletes.
"It's a really cool thing to watch," she said.
Parker hopes the exposure not only draws attention to the talent of U.S. athletes but also starts a fire in young would-be archers.
She still cherishes her experiences and finds the life lessons almost too numerous to name.
Her best moment as an archer came in the 1988 Olympics.
"I think it was when our team took the bronze medal," she said. "Because we weren't expected to do anything."
The team actually tied for second and then lost in a shoot-off.
"I've always just been really proud of that effort," she said.
2010 Archery World Cup Stage 3
At Ogden, Utah
Aug. 4-6 — Qualification and Elimination Rounds at Weber State University, 3848 Harrison Blvd.
Championship on Aug. 7 — Championship Finals at Lindquist Field, 2330 Lincoln Ave.
All sessions of the 2010 Archery World Cup Stage 3, including championships, are free and open to the public.
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