Toja Ellison returns to international competition circuit a mother

The Ellison family in 2021.

Under the rain, in the far right corner of the practice field, she walks with an umbrella to the targets to check her score. It’s the first appearance on the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit for 27-year-old Slovenian archer Toja Ellison since the circuit final in Moscow in 2019.

And things are different now. At the end of 2020, Toja gave birth to Ty, her and husband Brady Ellison’s first child.

She’s been shooting some small indoor events over the winter but skipped the season opener in Guatemala City as, with a newborn son, the logistics were just too complicated. Lausanne is a delayed return – and a somewhat new experience as a mother – to the highest level of competition.

“It’s different. Earlier, it was archery that almost defined me. It was generally all I did, except being a wife, a daughter or a friend. Archery was my main focus. And now it isn’t. Now it’s my baby. It doesn’t mean that archery isn’t as important, that I don’t practise or don’t do my best. However, no matter what happens on the field, when I come home, I’m happy because I’m a mum,” Toja said.

“When I’m on the line, I still focus on the archery. But it doesn't define me, whether I win or lose. It doesn't crush me if it goes not as planned. It also doesn’t bring my happiness over the roof when I win. My baby is my priority. He makes me happy.”

It was made more possible for Toja to come to this second stage because her father’s come, too. He has dual responsibilities – as a coach and as a babysitter.

“Ty hates car rides. We came here by car from Slovenia, so we drove at night. It took the whole night. We were so tired with my dad. But that’s what you do to make the kid happy. Everything is dedicated to him. I’m nursing in between because I still do that full time. I believe that if you want something, no matter if it’s archery, you can make it work,” she said.

Toja Ellison and baby son, Ty.

Things have changed at home, too.

Archery no longer sets the schedule, the naps of baby Ty do. Training rhythms can’t take the lead in life – and there must be a balance between sport and the job of a parent.

“Earlier I used to shoot all day long. Now I shoot when my baby sleeps,” she said.

“I want to be a present mum. I don’t want my baby to say one day in the future that his mum wasn’t there because she just shot all the time. I adjust everything so that I can practice and then when he is awake, I can stay with him.”

I haven’t slept the whole night for six months! He still wakes up every two to three hours. At first, it was very hard, my body had to adjust.”

It’s not a new problem. Many international athletes – in archery and other sports – have had a successful sporting career while caring for their children. In fact, some have only reached their pinnacle after becoming parents.

Perhaps it’s something to do with an integral change in mentality and the natural serenity that comes with finding something more important than your own success.

“Of course, archery still touches me. It’s still important. But I come home and smile because it’s something my baby needs. And when I see his cute face, it makes me happy. Everything is better,” Toja said. “It’s all about family now. I don’t say archery isn't important, it is, but our baby is who defines us.”

Competition starts with qualification on Tuesday in Lausanne.