Coryell’s commitment realises Paralympic dream

6 September 2016
Rio de Janeiro (BRA)
USA army veteran Lisa Coryell’s first Paralympics might be her last.

Original article by the Paralympic News Service at Rio 2016.

Many Paralympians have overcome extreme impairments to make the biggest stage in Rio, few more so than Lisa Coryell.

The first USA woman to compete in the W1 wheelchair category, Lia – as Coryell is known – made the national team after just 14 months of intense training. An army veteran who had received a medical discharge, Coryell had lived with multiple sclerosis for nearly three decades. Her disease worsened a few years ago and left her in a wheelchair.

She discovered archery with her training partner and fellow Paralympic archer Samantha Tucker.

“The goal was to make the Paralympic team, and from the start there was no turning back,” said Lia.

“For me it was a case of do it now, or there may never be another opportunity. It’s gotta happen now. Sam never says ‘I might’. She just says ‘I’m doing it’, and that rubs off.”

The two women started a ferociously austere training programme.

“We realised that if we were to be successful we would have to move away from distractions so we could focus on our training. Due to the level of impairments I have, I would never have been able to make that move on my own. We moved to Colorado Springs in January 2015 and trained hardcore – in the snow, in the rain, in the mountains with rattlesnakes and mountain lions, and in the desert with more rattlesnakes and lizards,” Lia said.

“I was very sick. My stomach stopped digesting food, so Sam would make bone broth and boiled eggs. We were investing all our money in equipment, training and travel to make the team.”

Both archers were successful, gaining places for the USA at the 2015 World Archery Para Championships.

“The first time I put on the uniform, at the training base in Houston last month, I was choked up,” Lia said.

Coryell has a chance of a medal in an event that has three of the top British para-archers in contention.

“Your biggest competitor is right here,” she said, pointing at her head. “The other women in the competition aren’t my competitors. They’re my comrades.”

Just getting to the Paralympics has been difficult.

“I’m very weak right now. This is taking a big toll on my body. I’ll probably have to go through an in-patient rehab program as soon as I get back, because I’m losing the ability to do some basic tasks because my body is so fatigued,” she said.

The prognosis for her condition is not good, and Coryell is well aware that this Paralympics will probably be her last: “It will continue until I can’t breathe anymore but that day isn’t today.”

“My coach always says: ‘Stay back here, on the shooting line. Keep your head here. Not the arrows you’ve already shot, not the ones you’re gonna shoot next’.”

“I know where I’m going. My family know where I’m going. But that arrow hasn’t been shot yet. We’re going to focus on being on the line.”

She has started coaching and mentoring some younger para archers.

“The most important thing for me is giving back. Does archery change the fact that their life is going to be shorter? No. Does it change the way they view themselves? Yes. Both my kids are able-bodied, and it’s a sport I can do with them. Archery is probably the most mouldable, the most flexible of all adapted sports,” she said.

“It’s wonderful to get here and see all these amazing athletes who have worked so hard. It’s very humbling. Tomorrow’s never better than today.”

The para archery competition at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games starts on 10 September in the Sambodromo.