Olympic Dreams For a Local Teen
When Jill Koval picked up a bow and arrow a little over two years ago, she was hoping to try something new and meet new people. Jill, now 17, and her sister, Ashleigh, have turned archery into a family affair, practicing together each day to maintain their elite status. It didn’t take long for coaches and trainers to realize that the sisters had something special, and could compete at a very high level. Thanks in part to the staff and support from the Demmer Center, Jill and Ashleigh have become some of the best in the country in their age groups. We sat down with Ashleigh and her mom, Carrie, to learn a little bit more about the life of a teenage archery phenom.
“I started after Jill started, and then the whole family got involved,” said the 13 year-old Ashleigh. “She started in March of 2011, and I wanted to try it too, so I started my first classes in July.”
Fast-forward two years, and Ashleigh can be found spending 20 or more hours per week practicing her craft. When asked how she balances practice with school, friends and other obligations, Ashleigh said, “We do everything else first, then come to the range for practice.” Carrie Koval, mother of 6, equated the practice scheduled to a full-time job.
Wearing a bright red “Team USA” shirt, carrying a custom-made pink PSE Archery bow, the teen gave us a brief demo of her skills. It didn’t take long before all of the Koval sisters were lined up; bows pulled taut, firing down range at targets of varying sizes and colors.
Demmer Center program coordinator Glen Bennett said he noticed something special in Ashleigh early on, saying that she was progressing at a much faster rate than the typical student.
“She started taking a basic introductory class, then quickly developed a real talent for it,” said Bennett.
After a referral, Ashleigh made the trip to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. After her first tryout and meeting, Ashleigh was accepted to join the Junior Dream Team, or JDT. The JDT program helps develop athletes between the ages of 12 and 18, who show promise in their particular sport. Joining this team is the first step in helping Ashleigh fulfill her Olympic dreams.
Bennett acknowledged, “It takes a huge commitment to be on the Junior Dream Team, from a financial and travel standpoint. They have to travel to at least four national tournaments per year just to remain on the JDT team.”
When it comes to awards, Ashleigh has many, from tournaments across the country in both the indoor and outdoor disciplines. At each tournament, competitors can win a pin, and Ashleigh has several of these pins, all proudly displayed hanging from her quiver. As a member of the JOAD program (Junior Olympic Archery Development), Ashleigh won an Olympian Silver Medal, and was named the #7 ranked archer in her age group. Despite all the success, Ashleigh says that her favorite experience during her career was the first time she picked up a bow and arrow.
“I want to go to the Olympics. That’s my main goal,” said Ashleigh.
Ashleigh will continue her pursuit of this goal over the next several months, as she travels to Texas, Florida, California and Ohio to compete in national events.
The next Olympics are scheduled for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If you don’t see Ashleigh there, you can bet she'll be competing for the Red, White and Blue in 2020.