U.S. Army Sergeant Michael Lukow does not like to lose.
Lukow, a soldier-athlete with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, was a hopeful for the London 2012 Paralympic Games in archery when he set out for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in April 2012. He had performed well enough in several international tournaments in the months prior to prove he had the skill to make the team.
He knew his best performance would earn him a spot.
At the trials, however, Lukow scored below his average and was edged by competitor Eric Bennett in the men’s standing recurve division. The soldier had missed his shot to compete in London – but he wasn’t going to overanalyze the results.
“I bear no ill against the guy who went. He did beat me,” Lukow said. “I don’t like to lose at anything. I expect it to happen every now and then, but I hate it. It drives me to improve.”
Lukow is not one to dwell on his losses, no matter their scale. The sergeant was serving in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2008, on an escort mission to take a lieutenant colonel to a meeting, when an IED blast tore off most of his right foot and severely injured his left.
After the accident, he underwent rehabilitation at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where he was fitted for a right-leg prosthetic and a brace for his left leg.
By May, just months into rehabilitation, he was learning a brand new sport. Skip Dawson, a coach at Fort Sam Houston, introduced Lukow to archery. It started as an activity for Lukow to get used to walking on his new prosthetics, but it held particular appeal for the injured soldier as a way to be outdoors and active once again.
“I have always been a competitor in some form. I used to be a pretty decent runner,” Lukow said. “Since I couldn’t run anymore, I needed some activity to do outside. The actual competition is just a bonus for me. I like to shoot just about anything.”
He stuck with the sport, working and training with Dawson at a small shop on Fort Sam Houston for several months. After talking with his wife Nikita about his post-injury goals, Lukow decided to give tournaments a shot.
It wasn’t long before he had earned his first competitive victory in 2008 at the U.S. Indoor National Archery Championships. From there, Lukow went on to earn a fourth place finish in 2010 at an international Paralympic tournament in England. Then, in 2011, Lukow soared to international recognition with a Grand Prix appearance in Stoke Mandeville, England, a silver medal performance at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, and a top eight finish at the world championships in Torino, Italy.
Though the 2012 Paralympic Trials did not turn out as planned, Lukow didn’t let that disappointment slow down his progress. This year at the U.S. Team Trials for the World Para Archery Championships, Lukow finished as the top-ranked man in the standing events, earning himself a spot on the team that will compete at the World Para-Archery Championships from Nov. 1-7 in Bangkok, Thailand.
One competitor will be noticeably absent in Lukow’s division at the world championships: Eric Bennett, the archer who earned that Paralympic spot ahead of Lukow in 2012. As of December 2012, Bennett is no longer eligible to shoot recurve with a release.
But once again, Lukow won’t spend too much time overthinking the field of competition. He has straightforward goals for worlds: to perform to his highest potential, no matter what.
“I just want to shoot as well as I can,” Lukow said. “I won’t say I will medal because the other guy could just be a little better that day. I will do what I can.”
For Lukow and many other archers, mental focus is an important skill, and distraction can be costly – something Lukow learned last year at the Paralympic Trials.
“The most challenging part for me as an archer is trusting my shot,” Lukow said. “Don’t think. Just do what you know is right. It’s easy for the mind to start tearing the shot process apart when things go a little off.”
With his strong performances this year and his unrelenting desire to win, Lukow is on track towards redemption and a spot at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – but he’s not there yet.
“I will shoot as well as I can,” Lukow said, “And we will see what happens over the next few years.”
Lukow has served in the Army since July 2005 and is still on active duty. Though he will reach the end of his contract in 2015, he plans to reenlist for another six-10 years. Lukow has also competed in archery for the Army team at the Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.