Archery Friends Forever,
These Girls are Headed to
Ireland! Archery Friends Forever, These Girls are Headed to Ireland!

Best friends are those who stick around for all of life’s crazy phases, awkward middle-school years included. And if you find one who shares your love for bows and arrows, you’ve struck friendship gold.

Archers Anna Miscione, Miriam Trafford and Karissa Yamaguchi found “friendship gold” in 2008 at age 11 when first competing against each other. Eight years, many tournaments and thousands of arrows later, the three will compete as a team at the 2016 World Archery Field Championships in Dublin, Ireland.

Trafford met Yamaguchi at the 2008 Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) Nationals in Oklahoma, where they competed as target mates. The two left-handed archers were fast friends and took two of the top-three podium finishes. “I’m not exactly sure how we bonded,” Yamaguchi said. “It was one of those easy friendships that form in youth.”

Trafford and Yamaguchi reunited the next year at the JOAD Nationals in Pennsylvania, again taking two of the top-three spots. Miscione took third. “When we all placed top three for that event, I felt like I kind of knew these were girls I would know for the rest of my life,” Yamaguchi said.

“When we all placed top three for [JOAD Nationals in Pennsylvania], I felt like I kind of knew these were girls I would know for the rest of my life,” said Yamaguchi, pictured center with, from left, Miriam Trafford and Anna Miscione. Photo courtesy of Gary Yamaguchi

“When we all placed top three for [JOAD Nationals in Pennsylvania], I felt like I kind of knew these were girls I would know for the rest of my life,” said Yamaguchi, pictured center with, from left, Miriam Trafford and Anna Miscione. Photo courtesy of Gary Yamaguchi

Later that year Miscione, Trafford and Yamaguchi qualified for the Junior Dream Team (JDT), a USA Archery program that helps train young athletes. The girls traveled once every three months to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, for a weeklong JDT training camp.

“Rooming together at camps has especially allowed our friendships to grow,” Yamaguchi said. “Our rooms gave us time to talk to each other and voice our concerns, share tears, and sometimes commiserate over coaches, parents and anything in our lives – personal or athletic. It’s where we could all be vulnerable, angry, silly and encourage one another.”

That encouragement on and off the field sustains the girls’ friendship, despite the distances. Miscione is a freshman at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia; Trafford is a sophomore at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; and Yamaguchi is a sophomore at Texas A&M University in College Station.

In fact, Yamaguchi said the girls’ friendship was instrumental during high school. “Despite the distance, we shared a lifestyle and understanding that not many of my (high school) classmates could relate with,” she said.

Yamaguchi said it’s easy to doubt yourself, especially if you’re not shooting well during a tournament. But the girls stick by each other regardless of where the arrows strike. “We win together. We lose together,” she said. “We love and respect each other as people first, and realize archery is a small part of our identities.”

In a gold-medal shootout in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2014, Miriam Trafford (pictured left) won and Karissa Yamaguchi took second. Photo: World Archery

In a gold-medal shootout in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2014, Miriam Trafford (pictured left) won and Karissa Yamaguchi took second. Photo: World Archery

The girls’ trust as friends and teammates promotes success. “Our competition makes us better,” Yamaguchi said. “One’s success inspires the others. And I think we believe in each other sometimes more than we believe in ourselves.”

The girls have their share of ups and downs in competitions. In fact, Trafford suffered “target panic” for several years. Imagine standing in front of a target and being so overwhelmed and anxious that you can’t put your arrows in the middle, no matter how hard you focus on your shot process. That’s what she went through for about two years. With her friends’ support and encouragement, Trafford eventually overcame target panic and won the 2014 World Archery Field Championship in Croatia.

“All of the girls have at one time or another had a difficult time with their shooting,” said Gary Yamaguchi, Karissa’s dad. “The other girls continued to support and encourage (Miriam), reminded her of what a great shooter she was, and eventually she recovered spectacularly at the next national tournament.”

The girls enjoy great success, climbing the ranks from the youngest members of the Junior Dream Team to being recognized nationally on the Junior U.S. Archery Team and internationally on the Junior World Team. Yet their archery growth pales in comparison to their personal growth.

“On the field, we cheer each other on, coach one another, spot arrows, act as agents, feed each other – you name it, we will do it for each other,” said Karissa, pictured with Miriam after their gold-medal shoot-off. Photo: World Archery

“On the field, we cheer each other on, coach one another, spot arrows, act as agents, feed each other – you name it, we will do it for each other,” said Karissa, pictured with Miriam after their gold-medal shoot-off. Photo: World Archery

“Archery itself isn’t all that important compared to the lifelong friendships and personal growth the archers experience as they pass through their teen years,” Gary Yamaguchi said.

The archers’ parents and friends must provide a strong support system during those formative years.

“Parents need to know how difficult it is to show up at a tournament, step to the line, and shoot that arrow,” Gary Yamaguchi said. “A lot of times, their child will be so nervous that their knees and hands will be shaking. At such times, what the child needs most is reassurance that all the parent wants is for their child to have a great time.”

Yamaguchi said competitive archers experience tremendous pressure. “Unload as much pressure as you can by communicating that you love them regardless of how they do, and that you hope they just have fun or meet a new friend.”

Maybe that new friend will provide a support system that spans years and distances, just like it did for Miscione, Trafford and Yamaguchi.

“As long as you’re good friends, you always kind of keep each other in the back of your hearts,” Karissa said.

The girls use text messages, SnapChat and social media to keep in touch between tournaments and training camps. And we bet the group chat is blowing up as the girls prepare for the World Archery Field Championships, which begin Sept. 26.

Friends and competitors since 2008, (from left) Miriam Trafford, Anna Miscione and Karissa Yamaguchi will compete as a team at the 2016 World Archery Field Championships in Dublin, Ireland. Photo courtesy of Karissa Yamaguchi

Friends and competitors since 2008, (from left) Miriam Trafford, Anna Miscione and Karissa Yamaguchi will compete as a team at the 2016 World Archery Field Championships in Dublin, Ireland. Photo courtesy of Karissa Yamaguchi

“Although these two girls are my longest friends in archery, we have never actually all been on a team together besides the Junior Dream Team,” Karissa said. “I have traveled with Anna and with Miriam separately, but this is really a dream come true. It is almost like we’ve come full circle. We started together and now, seven years later as we are all in college, graduated from our Junior Dream Team family, we can still be so close and go on an adventure, competing for our country together.”

Their unwavering support will be crucial to the team’s success. “On the field, we cheer each other on, coach one another, spot arrows, act as agents, feed each other – you name it, we will do it for each other,” Karissa said. “On days (especially at tournaments and camps) that are tough, we also know when to look away in silence or to offer a hug when we see sunglasses go on and ‘sweat’ dripping from our teammate’s eyes.

“I am really grateful for everything that archery has taught me: professionalism, speaking, positivity, perseverance, strength, sportsmanship, teamwork and how to respect and understand people from almost any culture,” Yamaguchi continued. “I encourage everyone to try archery, target, field or 3-D. It’s a great sport for those big and small, wise and young, coordinated and not.”

Pick up a bow and try archery today. Who knows. Maybe you’ll score more than bull’s-eyes. Maybe you’ll create your own personal “dream team,” one marked by unwavering support and lifelong friendships.

Find a store near you.