Brady Ellison competes in the Men's Individual round of 8 Elimination Round at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug. 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Three-time Olympic archery medalist Brady Ellison knew he had life-changing 2020 coming together. He was shooting his recurve events well, ranked No. 1 in the world and leading the U.S. in qualifying points for Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The game plan was in motion: reach his fourth consecutive Olympics, and try to win his first individual Olympic gold medal.
Things were also good at home, as his first child, a son, is due in December with wife Toja. They did an archery-themed gender reveal in June to tell the world that Ty Cooper Ellison was on the way.
It was all set up to be the epic year.
And yes, you know how it all changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the world archery calendar and postponing the Olympics.
But Ellison and Toja remain strongly positive, knowing the things that really matter have not changed.
“I am the happiest I have ever been — I am going to be a dad,” said Ellison, 31. “My wife is growing, the baby is growing. We’re honestly so happy. It’s actually been such a blessing, in such a chaotic year. We’ve been calmer; she can stay home and not travel as much. I can help her around the house when she needs more from me.
“It’s just been awesome. To be honest, if this is what retirement is like in 30 years, I’m going to look forward to it.”
But there is a long time to go before Ellison can blissfully relax in retirement. He should be out competing, but the pandemic has pared archery competition calendar down to a handful of events through the end of the year. Ellison can’t leave the for overseas events, due to other countries restricting travel from the U.S. to stop the spread of COVID.
Toja is also a world-leading archer, representing Slovenia in compound archery and ranked eighth in the world.
No events mean less income for the Ellison family. They are hunkered down in their two-bedroom home in Globe-Miami, Arizona, trying to stay competition-ready and preparing for the new arrival.
Which is why competing in their first event since the end of February, aka pre-COVID, meant so much. Ellison won the senior recurve men’s event at USA Archery Target Nationals earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia — and set a new world record for the double 70-meter round.
Toja also won her event, the senior women’s compound, marking the first time she competed for an American ranking.
The event looked and felt different to Ellison, as strict COVID precautions were in place. No handshakes or hugs for friends and competitors. Always maintain a social distance. Wear a mask at all times, even while competing outside.
“It felt good, even though I think like the event was like half of what should have been in terms of numbers,” he said. “Some people were afraid to travel. But it also felt like everybody there was so happy to be competing again.
“It all boils down to this was an archery tournament. But the things you are used to doing, like shaking hands or being next to each other, didn’t happen. It always felt like I was yelling at people since we were spaced so far apart.
Ellison understands the need to protect people from COVID, but also would like to see things return back to normal faster.
“I felt like the social distancing and the mask wearing was dehumanizing,” he said. “We had no affection, no social interaction. It felt like I don’t get to see what anybody is feeling or saying — like everybody is the same with the mask on.”
The postponement of the Tokyo Games has given Ellison a gift he hasn’t had in at least 15 years: time away from archery. He took a few weeks off this summer, only shooting compound for less than an hour for fun.
Ellison admits he put a lot of pressure on himself for past Olympics, and he now wants to change. He is the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in men’s recurve and has team silver medals from both the 2012 and 2016 Games. In 2019 he became the first U.S. archer in 34 years to win an individual world title. Despite that and his top world ranking, which he has held on and off since 2012, and being in the sport’s top 10 for a decade, he knows the Olympics have not brought out his best individual performances.
He is not changing his training for next summer’s Olympics; rather, he has decided he needs to make the world’s biggest event seem more normal. And he also will have baby Ty on his mind, hopefully helping him perform even better.
“I always tried to do something special for the Games, and that didn’t work. I need to make it like treating it as the same as everything else,” he said. “I think that will make all the difference."
“I think becoming a father will make me even more driven. I want this even more because I have somebody to care of now. I think it’s going to make me even more intense.”