Soldier represents team, women at Warrior Games
(Photo: DoD, EJ Hersom)

Michelle Sanchez, a medically-separated Army specialist, was the only female archer to make it into the top eight in the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games compound bow competition, and the only female on the Army’s gold-medal winning compound bow team.

Throughout the week of competition, Sanchez was one of about 265 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, United Kingdom and the Australian Defense Force who are competing in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Sanchez said she is proud to represent the Army, as well as female service members.

“As a female, it’s tough in the military, and archery is a man’s sport, but I just stuck to it and have been practicing for the past 10 years,” she said. “We shoot from the same spot and shoot the same type of bows. We shoot the same distance, and I just kept on it. It’s a good way for me to focus on me, my breathing, just a couple hours every day. Every day, I was out there in the backyard, just shooting away for the past 10 years.”

Hard work pays off

Though she didn’t make it into the individual compound bow medal round, Sanchez said she was proud of her performance because she broke personal records.

“I shot two of my personal best scores out here,” she said. “I left everything on the line. I got a 286 and 287. Normally, I’m in the low 80s, so I’m fine. … I made it on the podium with my team.”
“I’m proud of her, and I know she’s come a long way,” said Sanchez’s daughter, Kayla Rodriguez. “She’s been practicing day by day just to get here, so whether she makes it to the next round or not, she’s my hero.”

The San Antonio native grew up shooting rifles and going hunting with her dad on their family ranch. “My dad gave me his .25-06 rifle after I came back from Iraq. He’s a little old-school and didn’t think I was worthy of hunting side-by-side with him until I came back. I gained his respect as a serious hunter,” she said. “Females are on top of the trucks, we’re gunners, we deploy; we’re going into the infantry. We have the same heart and dedication. We respect the military, love it and want to provide for our families.”

Sanchez has post-traumatic stress disorder from combat operations in Iraq in 2003. She said she came back angry, had trouble sleeping and was hypervigilant. Finding the right medication and therapy helped, but archery is what helped her most, she said.

“I realized that the PTSD is not going to go away,” she said. “It can get better but it’s never going to be the same so I just have to accept it. And the more I accepted it, the better I became. I picked up archery, and it saved my life.”

Army, team of one

During the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, Sanchez earned the bronze medal by .29 centimeters. “I’m not one to cry, but after 10 years of training, I was bawling,” she said. “I had come such a long way and being the only female in the top eight and then the top three, I just let it out. … Being with the Army team is nothing short of phenomenal and adaptive sports save lives and change lives. It’s just a great way for people to get exposure and see there’s people just like you, regardless of gender, background or ethnicity. We’re all Army, team of one. It was amazing.”

She said she got to know her fellow teammates at the Army trials. “Our team’s very close-knit,” Sanchez said. “Everybody really got to know each other at the trials, and now we’re all supporting each other here. We have a really tight cohesion.”

Sanchez also earned gold medals in the shot put and discus at the Army trials. She has won two state titles in Texas in 3-D archery and one state title in Texas in field, during which archers shoot from distances ranging from 10 to 80 yards. She will compete this week in shot put and discus and in cycling at the Warrior Games. Her next goal is to make the 2018 Invictus Games team. Sanchez recommends adaptive sports to any ill, wounded or injured service members who may be considering them.

“We’ve got all kinds of different events that are available, regardless of your disability. There are a bunch of communities out there. If it’s funding and equipment, there are a lot of communities that can help with that too,” she said.

“You’ve just got to go out there and reach out, just make a phone call. Talk to a friend or a buddy, just reach out. Contact your nearest installation. They may have some programs there. There’s something out there for everybody. Once you go to that first practice, that first competition, you’re in it. You’ll be hooked.”

By Shannon Collins, DoD News, Defense Media Activity