“Archery got me out of the house in my darkest days ... It became my physical and occupational therapy.”
At 6-foot-7, US para-archer Kinga Kiss-Johnson certainly stands out from the crowd. She hopes to do so even more at the 2015 World Archery Para Championships, which begin Sunday (23 August) in Donaueschingen, Germany.
Kiss-Johnson is coming off a bronze medal finish in the women’s recurve open at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games. She knows that facing the international competition in Donaueschingen 2015 will be tougher, but she’s up for the challenge.
“My coaches [have] prepared me and brought me to this level and now it is my turn to execute what they have taught me," she said.
A US Army veteran, Kiss-Johnson is certainly no stranger to adversity.
She grew up in Romania playing basketball. Kiss-Johnson took her talents to the US, where she played college ball at Missouri State before she took the oath of citizenship to the US Army in 2007. In doing so, she became one of the tallest service members in her US Army Company.
Her intentions in serving her country were to keep one of her parents from deploying overseas following the 11 September attacks on the USA in 2001.
“During college, 9/11 occurred and my job allowed me to go into the military through a leave of absence,” Kiss-Johnson said. “My grandfather and my great-grandfather both were in the military, and I wanted to follow that tradition.”
Having made the decision to leave her basketball career behind, albeit temporarily at first, Kiss-Johnson suffered devastating neck, back and brain injuries whilst serving in Afghanistan.
“My injuries kept me from working in the military as a full-time career, and changed my life and my family’s lives,” she said. “With my husband’s care, a service dog and a home adapted to my needs, I am still able to be independent.”
Following the injuries, she was invited to a Military Paralympic Experience Camp and stumbled upon archery by coincidence. It was not the first sport she wanted to try, but she eventually found a knack for it. Originally, Kiss-Johnson was being held up by her occupational therapist with a PT belt to be able to stand and practice at the military base.
“Archery was the challenge I needed, since I am very competitive and there is no such word in my dictionary, as ‘I can’t,’” Kiss-Johnson said. “Archery got me out of the house in my darkest days when I was recovering from my injuries. It became my physical and occupational therapy.”
She competed in the 2013 World Championships. But this time, she wants to go home with a medal.
“I love this sport and I am hoping to take it as far as I can,” she said. “I am really looking forward to competing with some of the best archers out there in the next few months with my ultimate goal being to podium in Rio 2016.”