POWHATAN – Chad Adams was outside, shooting his bow in the backyard in preparation for the upcoming hunting season when his daughter Maddie, then 10 years old, came out to ask him something.
She looked at him and said, “Daddy, I want to shoot, too!”
For Chad, it was a moment that stopped in time, because at that moment, he knew then that archery would be something he and his daughter could share together.
At first, it took a little time for Maddie to get into it. Her parents Chad and Lori went to Walmart and bought her an introduction bow; she shot it for a couple of weeks before stopping, and her parents initially thought that’d be the end of her interest.
But right before Christmas, Maddie asked if she could get a real bow. So for Christmas – right before she turned 11 – her parents got her a Diamond hunting bow.
From there, Maddie and Chad grew their shared passion for the sport. At the end of that following January, Maddie and Chad shot in their first 3D archery tournament together. They continued to shoot 3D archery for the next couple of months before Maddie started with the Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) Program around April of last year.
That following May, Emily Blackburn began working with Maddie as her first coach. Chad had brought her in for the first evaluation, which would show how Maddie would mesh with the team. Emily was there to observe Maddie’s evaluation.
“I knew from the first time I watched her shoot that she had potential,” Emily said, “not just in the way she shot, because obviously mechanically we had a lot of progress to make – but in her composure and the way she handles herself.
“She shot like somebody who’s been shooting a long time.”
For Maddie, when it comes to archery, she likes the competition aspect of it.
“I don’t really shoot for sport,” Maddie said. “I shoot against myself.”
Chad remembered one day when they were riding back home from a practice, and Maddie said, “Daddy…this is kind of weird.”
“Well, what?” he asked.
“When I step up to the line…I can’t hear anything,” she said.
“Okay, keep going,” he replied.
“It’s like when I step up to shoot…everything just kind of shuts off,” she continued. “All I can see is my target, my bow.”
“Well Maddie, that’s a gift!” he told her. “You have a gift!”
For Maddie to be able to stand on the line, turn off the surrounding world and zone in on the target, that – Emily said – is a natural ability; it’s not something you can really teach someone.
Chad knew that, when she first started working with Emily, Maddie “was going to be something special.”
And in less than two years of pursuing the sport, Madelyn Adams, the 12-year-old archer from Powhatan, has already assembled a resume stacked with accolades.
She impressed early on at the summer kickoff tournament in Chesterfield, placing second and prompting her move from the beginner’s group to the advanced group.
In her second day competing in the Commonwealth Games at Liberty University – where she won two golds – Maddie shot a perfect score of 300 – and that wasn’t with the competition setup she has now. She did that with her first bow.
She’s made the podium or won in several smaller local tournaments while achieving a rank of fifth in the nation for indoors for the compound bowman female class and eighth for the JOAD indoor national rankings in the same class.
She has won the indoor state tournament, she came in second the first year she competed in the outdoor state tournament and she recently won the ASA state tournament in 3D archery on Sunday, July 28 while adding another extremely accurate score of 299 out of 300.
Maddie returned to Liberty University this past week where she competed in the State Games of America; in the FITA rounds, she finished second with a score of 1415 out of 1440. She shot 710 the first day - her personal best - and 705 the second day, her personal-best two-day score. While she earned silver in the FITA competition, she took home the gold in 3D.
She’s getting ready to take on this weekend’s Virginia State Outdoor Championships at the Clover Hill Athletic Complex in Moseley on Saturday, Aug. 10 (11 a.m.) and Sunday, Aug. 11 (9 a.m.).
She is a staff shooter for Ben Pearson Archery, T.R.U. Ball® Releases and AXCEL® Sights and Scopes, as well as a pro staff shooter for Vanguard Outdoors. She currently shoots a Pearson Strive bow.
The furthest distance she’s ever shot as of July 29 is 50 meters. She competes in target archery, in which the participant shoots at paper targets from distances based on age division (Maddie currently shoots from 25 meters), and 3D archery, which consists of a trail through the woods with 3D animal targets. In describing why she likes 3D Archery, Maddie said that “it’s challenging but it’s fun, and it’s really cool.”
Maddie has several teammates with whom she shoots on Emily’s JOAD team, called Split Nocks Archery. Maddie’s parents built targets at their house so that everyone on her team could have a place to go and practice.
“Our door is always open to anybody who wants to start,” Chad said.
Having a team to be a part of is extremely important for Maddie, her coach Emily said.
“It encourages her to keep going…you have to have a social aspect to keep them interested in it to a certain degree,” Emily said, “and for her to feel pushed by her teammates is important because it forces her to grow a little bit, and she’s got some really, really good shooters that she gets to practice with, that keep her on her toes and keep her wanting to improve.”
Most of the shooters around Maddie are older than her, and she gets along with a couple girls in the local area who are very close to her skill-wise; they tend to finish within a couple points of one another when they shoot, so for Lori and the family, it’s been really fun watching them compete.
“They tend to kind of trade places and go back and forth,” Lori said, “and they’re all friends – they all talk on Instagram; whenever we see each other, they’re all hanging out and giggling and laughing…just being girls, and it’s been really fun to watch the friendships develop, too. We homeschool, and we have friends, but it’s different when you’ve got somebody that’s doing the same thing that you’re doing.”
Through embracing archery, Chad said Maddie has become stronger mentally, and she’s also come out of her shell a little bit. When she first started with Emily, she wouldn’t say anything; now she talks the whole time, Emily said with a laugh.
The sport has taught her a lot of self-discipline – Lori and Chad don’t harp on her to practice; Maddie does her practice schedule herself.
“It’s something that we’ve left completely up to her; she knows what she needs to practice and when she can kind of take a little bit of a break and rest,” Lori said “We’ve always told her: You know your body; we don’t, and if you feel like you need to rest, then take a day off and rest; there’s nothing wrong with that. But at the same time, you know when you’ve got things that you need to work on and you know when you need to get out there and do it and we’re going to leave it up to you.”
When Maddie first started, Emily worked with her on things like changing the setup on her bow for her, and showing her how to do certain things. But now that Maddie’s been in the sport for over a year, they’re shifting to having Maddie troubleshoot and strive to fix those trouble areas on her own.
“We told her: It’s okay to make a bad shot, but the important thing is that if you make a bad shot, you need to recognize why it was a bad shot so that you know what you did and how you can fix it so that it won’t happen again,” Lori said. “So if she needs to make an adjustment to her bow...she knows how to do it on her own.”
As Maddie has learned how to be more self-sufficient in that regard with guidance from Emily, coaching Maddie has taught Emily a lot as well.
“She’s pushed me to be a better coach, because when you have someone who’s such a sponge and she soaks up everything you say, you have to figure out more things to say,” she said with a laugh. “You have to keep pushing yourself to learn more, and she’s made me a better coach for sure.”
“Emily has been such a blessing for us as parents and to Maddie,” Chad said in turn. “They’re like best friends.”
“It’s like big-sister, little-sister,” Lori said.
When you look at an athlete’s development, there’s always that core – Chad said – and for Maddie, Emily is part of that core.
“Whatever level she attains, whatever level she goes to, whatever that may be…always – always – that first page in her book will be written with Emily’s name on it,” he said.
As Emily has coached Maddie for more than a year now, she’s watched her go from “a 10-year-old who was more focused than an average 10-year-old” to “a 12-year-old who stands there like a professional.”
“She’s always the last one on the shooting line – she uses every minute she has to make sure she’s making clean, smart shots,” Emily said, “and that’s just not something you see in a kid usually.”
What Maddie has achieved, she deserves, her coach emphasized – it’s not luck that’s gotten her to the level of success she’s attained in such a short span of time and at such a young age. It’s hard work.
“She’s a humble kid and she’s a good sportsman,” Emily said. “She’s supportive of her friends and her teammates and she’s likable and she’s lovable and it’s just cool to see her achieve everything she wanted to.”
“It’s been fun watching other people notice what she’s doing, because we see her every day; we see it all the time,” Lori said, “but it’s been interesting especially…having other coaches and other teams come up and other kids tell her, ‘Man, you’re a really good shooter!’ and having coaches going, ‘How do you get her to do this? I’ve been trying to get my kids to do this for years!’ and we’re like, ‘I don’t know! She just does it!’
“It’s been really cool having feedback from other people’s programs from all over the country.”
“It warms my heart” – Chad said – “not just to see how accomplished she is, but to know that it’s something that her and I share together. As a dad, I could not be more proud.”