Phoenix native Judi Adams started shooting arrows in middle school and rose to the precipice of competing on a world stage, but Cold War politics threw up a road block that delayed her Olympic dream.
Adams began practicing archery seriously while she was a student at Glendale Community College and then Arizona State University in the late 1970s.
As she dedicated more time to working with higher quality bows and arrows, Adams realized competing in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow could become a reality.
“I realized I can probably do well enough to make an Olympic team and that’s when my real dream started,” Adams said.
Just after graduating from ASU, she won the silver medal at the 1979 World Archery Championships in Berlin and eventually earned a spot on the 1980 USA Olympic archery team.
According to Adams, she was a favorite to win a medal in Moscow.
However, paths to greatness have their fair share of dead ends and detours.
Four days after making the team, Adams’ dreams were put on hold, along with other U.S. Olympic hopefuls, after President Jimmy Carter announced in January 1980 that the United States would boycott the Olympics because of Russia’s presence in Afghanistan.
“I think I spent a lot of time in denial,” Adams said. “I thought there will be lots of other opportunities not realizing that there aren’t always lots of other opportunities.”
Adams worked hard to get beyond denial: “It’s pretty hard to be a good archer if you can’t let go,” she said.
Adams tried to make the U.S. Olympic team in each of the ensuing Summer Games following the 1980 boycott — 1984 in Los Angeles, 1988 in Seoul and 1992 in Barcelona — but she fell short each time.
While she failed to qualify for the team, her connection to the Olympics did help her find a job in 1984.
“I ended up getting hired by American Express on the Olympic Job Program and they basically allowed me to work part time and get paid full time so I had time to train,” she said.
Eight years later, as she continued to advance in her job at American Express as a project manager and train for a possible Olympic appearance, Adams gave birth to a son, just after the close of the 1992 Summer Games. Adams decided to retire from archery and put all her efforts into motherhood.
However, her retirement did not last long. At the encouragement of her sports psychologist, Adams’ decided to take one more shot and attempt to qualify for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Early in the trials, things did not look promising.
“I was in one of the matches, and I actually shot the scoreboard, like totally missed the target, shot the scoreboard underneath,” Adams said. “Needless to say, I lost that match and I think that put me pretty far behind.”
Adams realized she had to work hard in order to catch up and by her last tournament, she found the perfect form. Adams made an Olympic team for the second time. But this time, 16 years after earning her first spot in the Olympics, she would actually get to compete in her sport on the world stage.
One part of her Olympic dream did not come true.
The U.S. women’s archery team finished in 13th place out of a total of 15 countries competing that year, and thus, no Olympic gold.
However, while the future Adams imagined for herself included a gleaming medal around her neck, Adams said not winning may have been the best thing to happen to her.
“I think if I had won a gold medal, I would have defined myself by the gold medal and I would have gotten caught up in all that,” Adams said.
Adams, who recently retired from her job at American Express, said she learned a lot about herself from the experience.
“I learned so much more about life, resilience, perseverance and what things really mean when you get them than if the first time I had gone, I had won and it was that easy,” Adams said.