By Karen Price | Aug. 29, 2019, 10:53 a.m. (ET)

 

Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Archer Brady Ellison won Male Athlete of the Month for June 2019 after becoming the first U.S. man since 1985 to win a world title in men’s recurve. In Ellison’s Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, he shares how he overcame a finger injury that nearly ended his archery career just before his best season yet.

 

As crazy as it sounds, three-time Olympic archer Brady Ellison could just as easily have been working in a copper mine in his hometown of Globe, Arizona, this year as winning a historic world championship in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.

How he got from almost walking away from the sport to having one of the best years of his already distinguished career sounds even crazier.

“If I wouldn’t have been open-minded and willing to go do something completely crazy and almost unheard of in the modern world, I wouldn’t be a world champion,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a world record. I wouldn’t be here right now.”

To understand, you’d have to go back to right after the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Ellison competed at the Games for the third time and won his first individual medal — a bronze — and a team silver to go along with a team silver won in 2012.

Not long after Rio, however, the middle finger on Ellison’s right hand started to hurt. It happened once just after London and then went away, but this time it wasn’t going anywhere. The best way he could describe it, he said, was nerve pain.

“Every time I fired an arrow it was excruciating pain,” Ellison said.

As the problem continued from 2017 into 2018, the pain was affecting him mentally as well. His brain started to associate the clicking sound that comes when he draws the arrow back with pain, to the point where the clicking sound would make him jump.

“There was really nothing I could do about it and it sucked,” he said.

Ellison went from shooting around 2,000 arrows per week in practice to no more than 100. The pain didn’t stop. He saw hand specialist after hand specialist — at least four or five, he said — and had MRIs, MRIs with dye and X-rays, and nothing turned up.

After the indoor world championships in February 2018, where he placed 12th, Ellison almost walked away.

 

(L-R) Lee Woo Seok (South Korea), Brady Ellison and Kim Woojin (South Korea) during the men's recurve finals podium at the Archery World Cup on April 28, 2019 in Medellin, Colombia.

 

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“No one could figure out what was wrong,” he said. “I got to the point where I was like, I quit. I can’t do this anymore. It’s not worth it. I was still competing, but I was struggling to stay in the top eight in the world. I wasn’t winning any international events and I wasn’t shooting enough. I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t at the level I knew I could be at and it was too frustrating to do it anymore.”

Ellison, now 30, figured he’d get a job at the mine, maybe start off shoveling dirt and work his way up from there. It would be a much different life, but “you gotta do what you gotta do,” he said.

There was maybe one last hope, but to say it seemed like a long shot doesn’t quite scratch the surface.

Ellison’s wife, Toja, is from Slovenia, and her family still lives there. Toja’s mother told them about a man, Stanko Filipic, who is a bioenergeticist, or someone who uses energy to heal people.

Ellison did some research into the man and found some stories that seemed way too good to be true, from making paralyzed people walk again to changing a person’s genetic markers to heating up forks using just his own energy to the point where he could bend the individual prongs into spirals with his fingers.

It sounded hokey, Ellison knew, even nuts, but he was ready to try anything.

Ellison traveled to see Filipic last fall right before the World Cup Final. After three sessions he went to the range and shot 300 arrows, then 400 arrows the next day and 250 arrows the day after.

“I hadn’t done that in two years,” he said. “He didn’t give me medicine, he barely even touches you at all. He’s just one of those people who has a higher frequency of energy in their body. It’s a gift, and he can use it to heal people.”

Immediately after, Ellison went to the World Cup Final and took third.

The pain came back a little over the winter, but he’s since seen Filipic another four or five times and is now pain free.

“I haven’t had any pain at all this year, not a single thing,” he said. “I’m shooting just as many or more arrows now than I ever have in my career.”

It’s hard to argue with the results.

Ellison medaled in three consecutive world cup events to start the season (winning twice) – marking his best season in eight years – then won his first outdoor world title in June, becoming the first U.S. man to win a recurve world championship since 1985. Earlier this month at the Pan American Games he broke the world record for an individual score in men’s recurve during the qualifying round and was voted by his teammates to carry the U.S. flag during the Closing Ceremony. He also took bronze at the Olympic test event in Tokyo. Ellison is currently the top-ranked male archer in the world.

“It’s been so fun; I’m so happy I didn’t quit,” he said. “The thing is, I knew I could do this. I was leaving so much on the table and that’s why I was just hoping, hoping, hoping (my finger would heal). As soon as my finger didn’t hurt again it was like watch out, world, I’m back.”

Ellison continues to see Filipic, who he said also healed an old Achilles tendon injury and has helped his thyroid function — Ellison was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease at age 17 — so much that doctors have cut his medication dosage in half.

“It’s been a surreal year, to just realize that you don’t know everything about everything in the world,” Ellison said. “There are a lot of things out there we don’t understand. Just because it can’t be proven on paper doesn’t mean it can’t help you in some way.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.