Toja Ellison looks in the mirror and sees gold
World Archery hears from all four champions of this year’s Indoor Archery World Series, which concluded in Las Vegas. In part three, we speak to compound women’s winner Toja Ellison.
“What I love about archery is that it’s a constant mirror of who I am, of how I feel, how my life is.”
Her life on one particular Saturday night in Vegas looked great.
By 22h00, local time, she was standing on top of the podium at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa, cheque in hand for 6,000 CHF and, most importantly, owner of the title of Indoor Archery World Series Champion.
“This one was big,” Ellison said of the accolade on her car journey home back to her Arizona home from Vegas. “I have never made it to the top four in the Indoor Archery World Series and I really wanted to shoot in front of that big crowd. I was able to do it and I was able to finish on top.”
Anyone in archery knows Ellison is no stranger to podium finishes.
The talented Slovenian, who now resides with husband Brady in the US, won the World Archery Field Championships in 2014 and European Games in 2019. Most recently she was runner-up at the 2021 Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.
“It’s hard to compare them because each one is important, it’s not like one is less important than the other,” explained the 28-year-old. “They all mean so much to me. It’s a reward for hard work that I’m putting in, that I’ve been putting in for years.”
“The world field championship was my first world title; it was awesome and I still have the same feelings towards it and that second place in the World Cup Final was just as awesome as Vegas.”
“But now it’s different, I’m a mother,” she explained. “Before, I just did archery – especially world championships – as more of a professional hobby as I was still very young at the time. It wasn’t as professional as I’m doing it now, archery is truly my job now. I’m supporting my family with it and so does my husband. I’m very excited and very thankful I was able to win.”
Archery fans know all about Toja’s husband, Brady, the recurve expert who has won numerous titles around the world and together they added a third member to their family in November 2020 with the birth of Ty Cooper Ellison.
Now 15 months old, Ty joined his dad Brady in Vegas to help Toja to the top of the podium. Evidence of an archery dynasty taking shape?
“We are a team, we work together,” said Toja. “I don’t really have a coach, so Brady joined behind me in the coaching box. You can call him my coach but at the same time he’s my partner, my friend, my support, my everything.”
“He knows what I need. He knows who I am. He knows what I think. We talk about it so much. Having him behind is just like every day. It's comfort and security. He does the same thing as well. He knows what a shooter under pressure needs and what I personally need.”
“We’re just a good team and I always enjoy having him behind me if nothing else for the hug at the end,” she added. “It’s security for me and something we do together. I love having him behind me. It’s also extra motivation, of course, but mostly we’re doing the job together and it’s fun. In a way, it’s a game.”
Ellison saw off Elisa Roner (146-144), Sarah Prieels (147-143) and Lika Arreola (148-144) before the final, against Meeri-Marita Pass, which saw Ellison take gold with the very final arrow, needing a 10 to finally pull ahead, 144-143.
And the sympathetic crowd inside the finals arena cheered her on, adopting her as an honorary citizen in the final clash.
“When you are shooting any type of final or match, you have to stay in your bubble and just do your job, do your work, but I will say the crowd helped me win, they made it awesome,” she said. “I felt the support with every inch of my body, hearing my name being screamed around, it was just awesome and enjoyable to shoot.”
“They helped me enjoy the moment even more. I’m so thankful for all the support that I get from the crowd, from people, from fans, from family, from friends, from my sponsors. I could never do this without them. It was very enjoyable because of them.”
“I had lots of people congratulating me, coming to me, giving me hugs and who were excited for me. A lot of fans stopped by for fist-bumping. All my friends and family in Slovenia, my friends and family here in the USA.”
With any winner, there are losers, but as if to further emphasise the positiveness of the global archery community, Ellison was quick to point out the goodwill shown immediately after her success.
“Some of the top archers that are otherwise competing against me came to say congratulations,” said Ellison. “Most of us are very professional about it, even though we would rather be the one standing on top of the podium we go to the person that did it and are happy for them.”
“At the end of the day, we all did our best and whoever succeeded deserves to be congratulated. I definitely got that from a lot of people.”
With success in Vegas already in the rear-view mirror, Ellison is planning her next move down the road. And you can’t argue with how the family’s doing it, especially with Toja’s run of results of late matching up with, if not exceeding, her celebrated husband’s.
“We’re doing this together as a family and what I’m looking forward to is to keep pushing, keep working hard and keep doing my best on the line,” she said.
“We still have two big indoor tournaments ahead of us, the US nationals, the NFAA Nationals – and then the Arizona Cup and World Cups.”
“I’m planning to attend two, maybe three [World Cup events] this year. We’ll see, but probably two and we’ll see if that's going to be enough to make the World Cup Final. If it is, that would be awesome. This year, the way they line up and where they are, it’s going to be very hard to make all four of them [as it’s] impossible to travel with a kid. I’m not ready to leave my son somewhere when I’m going.”
“Hopefully I can have another successful season and just enjoy archery because I really do love the sport.”
That love for archery started with a badminton-playing friend – and a very good friend to this day – in a family of archers at the age of 13 in Slovenia. After her friend’s dad got his daughter a bow, Toja was hooked. “She was like, ‘Toja, come with me and let’s shoot together’,” said Ellison.
“We actually were switching the bow back and forth which is funny because the draw length is so personalised, but we were about the same size so we were able to do it. As soon as I shot my first shot, it was love at the first arrow – I was immediately like: ‘this is what I want to do’.”
That Christmas, Toja asked for – and was given – a bow as a present from her parents after a back injury curtailed her aspiring gymnastic ambitions. That bow proved to be more than just an instrument for sport.
“I was able to grow through archery,” explained Ellison. “The sport constantly points out the little weaknesses we have and I was able to make them strengths or make them not a weakness anymore.”
“Archery is a constant challenge and constant fun but something that I do and have always done with my family. Before I was married to Brady I did it with my brother and my father,” she continued.
“Now I do it with my husband and hopefully one day I can do it with my son. But it will never be a pressure for him [to do it]. He’ll do something else if he chooses something else, but it will be an option and right now, in a way, we’re sharing it because we’re travelling around [to events] together.”