Teenage archer Nick Barbato’s inspiring story went viral two years ago. Then 14, Barbato was one of the nation’s best archers despite Tourette syndrome. But just as he was reaching the top of his game, the disorder forced him to put down his bow.
“What’s tough about my Tourette’s is it physically hurts,” Barbato said. Tourette syndrome involves uncontrollable motor and vocal tics. Barbato’s tics include swearing, punching and rapid headshakes. His headshakes became so violent and frequent in 2018 that he couldn’t shoot.
Two years later, Barbato is back shooting fulltime. His break included two months in Florida at intensive outpatient therapy, which led him back to archery.
“It gave me a way to cope with my anxiety, OCD and Tourette’s, which led me to gain that confidence back,” Barbato said.
Barbato earned his confidence through competition. He tried archery in first grade at a Cub Scout camp. He joined a JOAD program at age 10, the same time he was diagnosed with Tourette’s. With help from his archery coach, Barbato determinedly worked through the tics that made shooting and aiming difficult. By his freshman year of high school, he finished in the top 10 at national championships and won the State Games of America.
Barbato, now 16, recently finished his sophomore year. He hasn’t competed in many tournaments, but he remains competitive. He shoots three or four rounds daily in his backyard, averaging 290 and at times shooting 300. COVID-19 and a broken hand from his punching tic paused his plans to compete this summer, but that’s OK with Barbato.
“Archery is something fun for me now,” he said. “I’m still competitive but I use it to cope now. I used to really want to go pro, but I don’t know if that’s what I want anymore.”
Barbato has also expanded his passions to coffee, cooking, fishing and photography. He hopes to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He and a friend also founded M&N Roasters, a small batch coffee roasting company.
Barbato’s tics come and go. Everything will be in balance for months, and then he will feel horrible at times. His big dreams and positive attitude, however, inspire everyone. Even when his Tourette’s gets in the way, it doesn’t keep him down long.
“I tell people adversity is an advantage,” Barbato said. “When you’re struggling with something, look at it like it’s helping your life.”
Barbato works as a “Teen Ambassador’ for the Tourette Association of America to boost awareness about Tourette’s. He also encourages fellow archers when they struggle. He advises that sometimes you must take a step back to move forward.
“I’ve taken a lot of breaks by choice and not by choice,” Barbato said. “Every time I take a break, I come back better than I was before.”