All women who shoot competitively are warriors, but there are few as skilled and determined as Lia Coryell, America’s first—and, to date, only—female W1 Paralympic archery champion. That W1 classification is a specific term that refers to the physical challenge Coryell has battled to reach the podium, but it doesn’t capture Coryell’s indomitable spirit, nor does it sufficiently emphasize as the most important part of that phrase: “champion.” Just a few days ago, Dubai witnessed Coryell’s victory in a twist that surprised nobody ... but her.
USA Archery is the governing body of American Olympic archery, and defines Paralympic competitors according to their individual needs. The W1 classification that Coryell just dominated refers to competitors who “… have impairments in at least 3 limbs and the core and must shoot using a wheelchair.” Lia’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis may have given her the W1 classification, but it only begins to define how she got to the city of Dubai with her compound bow in hand.
Coryell, a United States Army Veteran, got a late start to her archery career in 2015 at the age of 50 when she received her diagnosis. Since then, she has overcome numerous health battles in the global pandemic, and given everything to shoot on the world stage at two Paralympic Games. But Coryell doesn’t talk of winning, just of showing up and leaving her mark. In fact, she was so focused on her shooting that she didn’t realize she’d won!
“It was epic,” said Coryell. “I thought I had more arrows to shoot and was arguing that we shouldn’t celebrate yet. This is for all the kids that got picked last in kickball or made fun of in the lunch line. I didn’t even become an athlete until age 50, and now I’m a world champion! It’s never too late to rebel with intention.”
After finishing fourth at Tokyo 2020 (which had been delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic) this past summer, Coryell’s long-awaited Paralympics entry was similarly epic. Coryell qualified 6th recently in a stacked field of talent. In the quarterfinals, shooting against the Russian Archery Federation’s Anna Ilina, the two went back and forth each end in a tight-scoring match; both posted 128s—the highest scores across the field. The tiebreaker shootoff came down to a caliper measure and Coryell was determined the winner over the No. 3 seed.
In the semifinals, Coryell met Korea’s Kim Ok Geum, against whom she has a strong winning record, including the Paralympic quarterfinals just months ago. It was another blowout in Coryell’s favor, 125-113. Simultaneously, top seed Elena Krutova of the Russian Archery Federation fell to Turkey’s 5th seed Nil Misir, guaranteeing an exciting gold match with two well-paired archers. After a nail-biter of a final, Coryell closed out with two solid 10s in her final two arrows to seal the win 130-124.
Overcome with emotion, Coryell beamed on the top of the podium as the National Anthem played. In that moment, she didn’t just champion the United States; she championed her personal motto: “You are not your diagnosis.”