LONDON — Lee Ford was only a child when she first shot a bow and arrow. Over the next 20 years, Ford found herself involved in other activities, from speed skating to belly dancing and fire breathing to practicing WingTsun Kungfu — but archery was not part of the picture. In 2008, three years after an injury that paralyzed her left leg, a friend took Ford to shoot arrows as a way to get her out of the house. It was love at first shot.
Today she will make her Paralympic Games debut.
Ford realized very early on in her reintroduction to archery that she had a chance to make the Paralympic team. “I had been invited to the ParaWorld Championship prep camp,” she said. “Not only was I amazed and delighted to find others that had injuries like mine and saw how wonderfully they dealt with that, I found that with some serious training, I could really make my dream a reality.”
With the support of her daughter, Ford began to train, shooting as often as she could while managing her full-time job as a paralegal and office manager at a law firm.
Still, some of the challenges Ford faces on a daily basis require a strong mental resolve, both in and out of her sport. She has degenerative disc disease, as well as arthritis and Crohn’s Disease, all of which makes it difficult to get out of bed some days. “I do it because that is the only way I'll get to shoot arrows that day,” Ford said.
Ford now prepares to compete in London with serious training and a Parapan American gold medal under her belt. She won her spot on the Paralympic team just four months after she had spine fusion surgery, and began training five hours a day, six days a week. This approach has helped Ford earn a top-20 ranking in the U.S. in archery among able-bodied women.
Though her training includes cardio and resistance training, Ford has learned that success in archery comes down to a certain level of patience and finesse. “Everything in archery comes down to form, and blank bale coalesces your form so that you can make every shot the same. You become a machine,” she said. “I think this helped me as I didn't worry about scores every day, I worked on how my archery felt to me.”
Another key to success is a lesson Ford learned from her coach, Jim White, who taught her that relationships determine results. “What you do, how you act, how you treat every single person that is around you determines how well you can succeed in life, whether in sport, school, work, your home life,” said Ford, who says this ideal has been life changing for her. She credits her friends and family, including her husband and her daughter, with helping to make her journey possible.
The 2012 Paralympic Games will be Ford’s chance to represent the U.S. as an athlete, but she got her first taste of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in 1996 in Atlanta. A Georgia native, Ford worked as a volunteer transportation supervisor, and then an assistant manager during the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the stadium.
“I was completely blown away by the Paralympians,” she said. “I never thought I would have the inner strength to be able to compete if something had happened to me. The light shining from those athletes was so bright and I was totally inspired in my life to be the best I could be at whatever I was doing, or at least work hard and do the best I could do.”
Now Ford will do her part to inspire others as the only woman on the U.S. Paralympic Archery team. Representing Team USA is a dream come true, and she knows no matter what the outcome is in London, she is happy with what she has accomplished and is proud to be an ambassador of her sport and her country.
“I know for a fact that archery has made me a better person,” Ford said. “When I combine my accomplishments with the person I have become in the last four years, I know that have attained something magical and that is going to be with me the rest of my life.”