Denise Parker: "Archery will always have a place
The Arizona Cup is one of those international archery tournaments that attract hundreds of archers and fans. When you come to Arizona you can witness top level competition but you can also see and talk with archery legends like Richard McKINNEY, Ed ELIASON, Judy ADAMS, Jay BARRS and Denise PARKER, among a whole bunch of former Olympic and World Championships medalists you may run into while you walk around Ben Avery.
One of these stars has held a very important position in US Archery in the last six years. Denise PARKER, the best US female archer in the last 13 years of the 20thCentury, is the Chief Executive Officer of the governing body of archery in the United States, running an office with around 15 staff.
“We have had a crazy growth in the last six years. Our members have grown from around 3 500 to 18 000. It is a real challenge now. Our youth division has developed incredibly, and the number of clubs has doubled”, says Denise when asked about what keeps her busy now.
Born in December 1973, Denise PARKER made her first international appearance at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, as part of a team that included 1976 Olympic Champion Luann RYON. The 13-year old left-handed girl became the biggest surprise, as she ranked first in the FITA round with an impressive 1270. “I was so carefree and had so much fun then”, confesses Denise as her mind flies back in time, “…I sometimes want to go back to being who I was at 13.” At the end of the Grand FITA Round, she was crowned as the third US female archer to win the Pan American Games, after Lynette JOHNSON and Ruth ROWE, who had won in 1979 and 1983 respectively.
A year after, at the Seoul Olympics, Denise PARKER became the youngest archer to win an Olympic medal, when the US women’s team took the Bronze in a dramatic shoot-off versus the eventual Silver medalists from Indonesia. 1989 would bring her to the podium again, as she ranked third at the World Championships in Lausanne. In 1991 she achieved an overwhelming victory at the first World Junior Championships in Norway, with an impressive margin of 47 points over the Silver medal. In that same year, she won the Pan American Games for the second time. At the age of 18, Denise PARKER was the World’s hope to beat the Koreans in Barcelona.
“It was not until Barcelona that I realized that I had a lot of pressure on me. I was so very close to a medal there, but I shot a 6 with my last arrow versus Natalia VALEEVA, and couldn’t make it to the semifinals.”
Denise’s eyes were now aiming at Atlanta, for the Olympic Games at home, and she moved to San Diego to train there. The qualification round at the 1993 World Championships in Antalya showed Denise PARKER on top of the list with the highest FITA score ever shot by a US lady: 1361, 8 more than VALEEVA and 18 more than the Queen of the Barcelona Olympics CHO Youn Jeong. But winning the FITA round would not be enough; she needed to make it through 5 matches to be the World Champion.
The 1/16 match was an easy one: 106 versus Finland’s TOIVAKKA’s 93. But in the next duel China’s MA Xiangjun shot the highest score on the field to beat the American hope 111-102. Denise PARKER could not get any higher than the 13th place.
The disappointments at Barcelona and Antalya proved very difficult for Denise’s mind to overcome, but the worst was still to come: not making the US team for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. “I wondered whether I could do it, whether I had the mental strength. Probably I needed to give myself a break.”
After a couple of years break, Denise PARKER was back on track. She made the US team to the Winnipeg Pan American Games in 1999, where she won the Team Gold. In 2000 she attended the Olympic Games in Sydney. “I had to do it for myself. I never got back to shooting as I had shot before. I wanted to come back and not end my career by not making the 1996 US Olympic team.”
Denise is a mother of two boys who have not felt attracted to archery, despite the fact that their mother keeps two bows at home: a recurve and a compound. They play soccer instead. But Denise does not have the time to show them how great archery is. She can shoot 30 or 40 arrows a year only. US Archery takes most of her time and efforts.
This joyful young woman from Salt Lake City, who was once a charming girl who played with a bow and a few arrows, still feels archery deep inside of her. “I look at the kids shooting and I remember when I was thirteen. Once you fall in love with this beautiful sport, it is always a piece of you. Archery will always have a place in me.”