By: Perry Smith
Crystal Gauvin had a successful career she enjoyed as a senior economist, and then she discovered archery.
Her story contains a combination of factors—parts dedication, drive, passion, planning, practice, and sacrifice—as her voyage to the No. 2 ranked archer in the world (No. 1 in the United States), includes her forgoing the steady career, for a shot at being right where she stands today. And when she reached the top of the compound bow world, she changed again.
Crystal received her first compound bow as a Christmas present in 2012, but even that’s a bit of an unusual start for a world class competitor. At first, her family and friends discouraged the choice, and pushed her toward the recurve bow. “They wouldn’t let me shoot with a compound bow,” she recalled. “Here in New England, because of (five-time Olympian) Butch Johnson, it was all recurve, recurve, recurve. Nobody shoots compound.”
She made a bet with her husband and some of her friends from the local archery range—if she entered a local competition and won, she could shoot all the compound bow she desired. Using an old hunting bow sans the stabilizer and target sights commonplace in competitions, she took first. In fact, she won by about 100 points.
The family’s hesitation was understandable. Hailing from the Northeast, a region that produced Olympians and renowned coaches, including Butch Johnson, Roxanne Reimann and Karen Scavotto among others, considered to be among the best in recurve, Gauvin’s choice is all the more unique. Most archers in the area shoot with a recurve, which Gauvin attributed to a few factors, namely the large shadows cast by the success of the aforementioned greats. But her family became staunch supporters, and with her yuletide gift of a target bow, she was ready. Or so she thought. “And I kind of just took off, from there,” she said, “and got my butt handed to me at the Lancaster Classic.”
Her first “real” tournament—the Pennsylvania competition in late January 2013 that, over the last quarter-century, brings together some of the best archers in the world—gave her an education in how much she had to learn, she said. For example, her finishing out of the top-16 for the first time ended up being a blessing in disguise—she hadn’t brought enough arrows to compete had she made the cut. “Make sure you read the rules for every archery tournament,” she said, sharing the lesson that the experience taught her. “Every tournament can have a different format.”
The loss became a turning point for her. The early elimination kindled her competitive nature.
She was shooting alongside some of the nation’s best, and started to soak up all she could: the importance of knowing how to fix problems with your equipment, the need for consistent training, and so on. By the end of the year, she set her sights on making the national team in 2014. After the first year, she ended up on the podium at more than two-thirds of her tournaments in 2014, and then the following year, she earned a spot on the U.S. World Cup team.
“There’s definitely a big learning curve,” she said, noting things like the first time she shot outdoors, for the Arizona Cup, early in the season, and how wind could affect her shot.
All of this and others were teaching moments that she still takes with her, and shares with the athletes she coaches.
Despite her success, the industry and Olympic opportunity with the recurve bow recently pushed her to pick up the more traditional competition bow, and she’s now set her sights, so to speak, on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. This year, her goal is a learning year, albeit one with aggressive goals, as she gets the hang of recurve.
For the athlete who was essentially oblivious to international archery competition until the London Olympics—she said she trained under Butch Johnson for months before discovering his Olympic past—Gauvin is now clearly in the same league as archery’s best. And while she knows the leap from competitive to elite is difficult, it would probably be unwise to bet against her at this point. “Ultimately, the primary goal is to learn as much as I can so I can be 100 percent ready to be competitive for next year,” she said.