THOMSON, Ga. - Joyce Strother doesn't consider herself an athlete.
However, when the reigning Georgia Games gold medal champion in women's freestyle unlimited archery steps on the shooting range, she becomes a marksman with the accuracy of William Tell.
"She's got a natural form and is capable of handling different types of pressure during (competitive) shoots," said Tom Boots, who is Mrs. Strother's part-time coach and equipment technician.
Fresh off this summer's gold medal performance in the Georgia Games and her first ever Southeastern Field championship, Mrs. Strother, 42, is making a comeback of sorts after family tribulations caused her concentration to slip the last couple of years.
The lifelong Thomson resident won the silver medal at the Georgia Games in 1992 and 1993 and captured the gold the last three years at the event - which was not staged last year because of the Olympics.
She didn't participate much in 1996, and placed no higher than second in three events, as she dealt with the death of her brother, who died of leukemia. Her grandmother died the year before.
"If you got your mind on something else, you can't really concentrate. The last couple of years have not been the greatest. I think because I had my mind on the other things - and I was trying to shoot, too - I developed a few habits that were not exactly right. I had a little bit of a lazy elbow problem," she said.
But Mr. Boots detected the flaw in her mechanics and with one shoot left in the outdoor shooting season - the Dixie Bowhunter Jamboree scheduled for Aug. 29-31 in Thomson - she feels like she's back in peak form, as evidenced by the recent top finishes.
"She's coming out of that slump and I think she's going to reach an even higher plateau," said Mr. Boots.
She is looking forward to 1999, when the Georgia Games - an annual Olympics-style event featuring amateur athletes in more than 30 sports - moves from Atlanta to the Augusta area.
Mrs. Strother picked up archery at the beginning of 1991 after her son Bruce, 21, and husband Lester, 46, got into the sport. Archery is a family affair for the Strothers, who are all members of the Thomson Field Archers.
"I tried a friend's bow on the Fourth of July in 1990 and I said, `You know, I can do this - maybe,' " she said. "I don't know that I'm a natural, but it's something I can do."
She received her first bow, customized by Mr. Boots, as a Christmas gift in 1990 from her husband and son.
From there, it didn't take long for the sharp shooter to make a mark for herself. "Within three months' time, I was winning," said Mrs. Strother, who is an office manager for Two State Construction Co. in Thomson.
In 1991, her first year of competition, she collected a combination of seven first, second and third place finishes, including a bronze medal at the Georgia Games. To date, she has placed in more than 40 competitions.
She competes mostly in women's freestyle events shooting at targets from prescribed distances. Freestyle events allow the archer to adjust the bow's front-mounted site based on the yardage being shot.
But Mrs. Strother has started to dabble in 3-D target shoots, where plastic foam replica animals placed in realistic settings are the targets.
Although she has the skills to do so, Mrs. Strother doesn't hunt live animals. "I tried hunting and I just didn't like sitting in a tree, and I didn't like the cold....just none of that," she said.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Strother's success in archery has made her somewhat of a celebrity around town. In addition, she was asked to speak at the Georgia Games torch ceremony in McDuffie County.
The amateur archery champ doesn't shy away from publicity. She uses every opportunity to shine some light on her sport.
"My husband and I, whenever possible, promote the sport of target archery. Some of the nicest people I've ever met, I've met through archery," she said.
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