COLLEGE STATION, Texas - One thing after another always got in the way of Thomas Stanwood’s journey to becoming an Olympian in archery. There were two years of college, various jobs, becoming a heavy-metal drummer, a prolific 9-ball career, golf, more college and then a law degree.
Stanwood shot compound archery in his early teenage years, then stepped away from the sport for a decade. Later, after graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a philosophy degree, he began law school — and only then picked up an Olympic recurve bow.
It seems to be working out.
The Boston lawyer, who turned 41 last Thursday on his trip to College Station, Texas, for the second stage of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Archery, secured his spot on Saturday among the final 16 men and 16 women competing toward an Olympic spot in Tokyo.
Open to the public to watch – and initially to compete in, the archery Olympic trials began with nearly 200 competitors in August at the U.S. National Target Championships in Ohio, and on Saturday the field was cut drastically. Among the big names who just missed out were Olympic medalists Justin Huish, Butch Johnson and Vic Wunderle, Paralympian Lee Ford-Faherty and Youth Olympic medalist Trenton Cowles.
Others who moved on include three-time Olympic medalist and defending world champion Brady Ellison, Olympic team medalists Jacob Wukie and Zach Garrett, five-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig, Youth Olympian Catalina GNoriega and 15-year-old Casey Kaufhold.
Those who made the cut will compete further on Monday and Tuesday in College Station before heading to Chula Vista, California, for Stage 3 of the four-part Olympic Trials in April. The field will be cut in half again in Chula Vista, with one man and one woman securing their spots on the Olympic team after Stage 4 in May in Florida. The second- and third-place finishers of each gender will then wait until June to see if the U.S. secures enough quota spots for them to join.
Ellison and Kaufhold lead the men’s and women’s standings, respectively.
Stanwood advanced in a tie for sixth place after scoring 629, including 13 shots in the middle for 10s, on Saturday during a rather windy day at the Veterans Park venue. Not bad for a former college ice hockey player, which is full contact and brute force on ice instead of sweltering in the Texas heat.
Stanwood regularly shot the compound bow starting when he was 13 until he was 17, at which time he set it down and didn’t even touch a bow for 10 years. A guy he knew who owned an archery range had once been a phenomenal 9-ball shooter, so Stanwood and some of his friends found their way into billiards. They played various tournaments and became good.
The competitiveness of Stanwood flowed not only through a pool cue but into playing ice hockey for a year at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. After getting his two-year degree, he worked myriad jobs.
“I did manual labor, technical labor, sales for a Fortune 500 company and drove heavy equipment in a steelyard,” Stanwood said.
He also played drums, specializing in heavy metal and occasionally dabbling in jazz. When he and his wife bought a home 10 years ago, he made it a point to have a room dedicated to keeping his drum sets so he could play as much as he wanted.
While starting law school at Suffolk University in Boston during 2009, he found the recurve bow through a friend, so he found his way back into the archery fray. He worked his way toward the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. After falling short, he once again put down the bow, not touching it again until 2014, when he tried and make the squad for the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
“That was a big mistake,” Stanwood said. He said not only was there more up-and-coming competition, but the time away from the sport left him rusty.
He made it to the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials but missed the cut to make the team.
“It was an uphill battle that entire two years,” he said.
After missing the team that year, he didn’t put the bow down but kept shooting. He didn’t train as much, but just enough to stay in shooting shape. During 2018, he and his wife, Valerie, had twin sons Graeme and Niall, who are now 15 months old.
Having twin sons have now presented a different, but welcoming, challenge to Stanwood.
“It gives me a different perspective and a different sense of joy I didn’t know was there,” he said. “I didn’t know what I had been missing.”
With his winding road from drummer to hockey and law school to twins, his path has been nothing ordinary for an Olympic-caliber athlete. But it’s not stopping him from a sharp focus to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.
“This year has been very intense with world cup, world championships and the Pan Am Games,” said Stanwood, who has spent more than 100 days away from home this year for archery. “But I’ve learned a lot, and I can finally say I’ve done this long enough to feel I have some good experience.”
Archers Advancing To The Next Round
1. Casey Kaufhold
2. Eliana Claps
3. Erin Mickelberry
4. Alexandria Zuleta-Visser
5. Crystal Gauvin
6. Khatuna Lorig
7. Mackenzie Brown
8. Nicole Turina
9. Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez
10. Catalina GNoriega
10. Valerie Wang
12. Amy Jung
12. Molly Nugent
14. Brianna Laux
15. Kelsey Lard
16. Branduin Stroud
1. Brady Ellison
2. Josef Scarboro
3. Jacob Wukie
4. Jack Williams
5. Matthew Nofel
6. Alex Bourdage
6. Joonsuh Oh
6. Thomas Stanwood
9. Zach Garrett
10. Matthew Requa
11. Adam Whitlatch
11. Glen Thomas
13. Joony Kim
14. Matthew Zumbo
15. Adam Heidt
16. Andrew Park
Scott McDonald is a writer from Houston who has covered sports for various outlets since 1998. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.