It was back to school this week for the friends of 14-year-old Denise Parker, but the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team sat out the start of classes to prepare for the archery competition at the Games of the XXIV Olympiad.
Parker is scheduled to leave Thursday for Los Angeles, where she'll join the rest of the U.S. team before heading for Seoul, South Korea, site of the Summer Games.There, she'll have to wait 10 days after the Sept. 17 opening ceremonies before it's her turn to compete. Individual competition among the archers will last four days and team competition one day.
Sitting in her family's South Jordan living room on a recent weekday morning, Parker said she isn't anticipating bringing home a gold medal, even though she won top honors at the 1987 Pan American Games and this year's Olympic Trials.
"I don't expect to win a gold medal - I'd have to shoot an amazing score. I'm just going to do my best," she said. "If I do my best around here, I usually win the tournament. There, I don't know."
That matter-of-fact attitude toward her talent surfaces again when Parker is teased about her "beginner's luck" in bagging a two-point buck on her first bow hunt ever last weekend.
"It's skill," she said quietly. The hunt itself, Parker said, was fun. It took her only five minutes to spot and kill a deer about 35 yards up a hill from the family's camp.
Her father's interest in bow hunting is what got Parker started in archery more than four years ago. Until the Legislature lowered the legal hunting age last year, however, she could only watch her parents bow hunt.
The trip was a break between two weeks of intensive training in Arkansas with her coach, Tim Strickland, and the training routine she'll follow at home until she departs for the Olympics.
That routine is similar to the one Parker used to prepare for other competitions - with one difference. Because of a recent bout with tendinitis that struck just before the Olympic Trials, she has reduced the number of practice arrows she shoots from 200 to 100.
Parker's coach and both of her parents will be traveling with her to Seoul, thanks to contributions by many Utahns. The Deseret News established a fund to help pay for her training and travel expenses.
Thousands of dollars, with donations ranging from as little as $5 to hundreds of dollars, were raised. The Parkers and the officials associated with the effort expressed their appreciation to everyone who contributed.
Utahns will have an opportunity to wish Parker and the state's other Olympians good luck before they leave for Seoul. A rally is scheduled Saturday from noon until 2 p.m. in the State Capitol.
Athletes Unlimited, a local fund-raising organization, is sponsoring the rally. Donations for the athletes' expenses will be accepted, and balloons and soda pop will be sold to help raise money.