Toronto-based archer takes aim at 2015 Pan-Am berth

It was 10 years ago, during a visit to South Korea, where Vanessa Lee’s life changed.

Lee, then 16, was there visiting her family and friends. The family planned to see some attractions, but Typhoon Megi swept through part of the country, forcing Lee and her family to take shelter in their small home, in front of their tiny TV. So, they watched the Olympics in Athens. Archery was on. Korea’s own Park Sung-hyun was competing.

“She was just so cool and composed under pressure that I was like, ‘I want to be like her,’” Lee said. “So I stopped spending all the money my parents gave me to spend on the trip, and I said ‘I’m coming home and I’m buying a bow.’”

Lee immediately began emulating the techniques of pro archers such as Park, but the extent of her imitation went farther than what her coach Joan McDonald expected.

“She was trying to make herself into somebody else,” McDonald said. “She watched videos of the top Korean archers and she was trying to make herself into one of those instead of making herself into who she is.”

Lee spent a good portion of her career trying to find her own technique, but equally challenging was the pressure of competition. Archery judge Robert Jackson has seen it in many archery contestants.

“They’re shooting 70 metres, and they’re trying to hit a bull’s-eye that’s the size of a loonie, and that’s not an easy thing,” Jackson said.

After a string of poor performances, Lee nearly threw in the towel. She told her coach, her best friend, and even her parents that she was quitting. Then, she received the boost she needed.

“It was from the CIBC saying, ‘We’d love to have you be a part of CIBC Team Next,’” Lee said.

Team Next is a $2 million program to support a select few Pan-American Games hopefuls.

“That was kind of the turning point,” Lee said. “How is it that this organization can believe in me more than I believe in myself?”

This belief is something she will need to build and maintain if she wants to shoot for Team Canada in the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.

“She has a very good chance of being on that team,” Coach McDonald said. “But it’s one thing to shoot great for your local club in a weekend Sunday tournament. It’s quite a different thing to perform on the highest stage. Making that jump has nothing to do with technical skill, it has to do with believe and trust, and she has to trust that she’s good enough, and believe it.”