Para archers representing at World Games in Alabama

Mariana Zuniga and Ben Thompson at the World Games 2022

Amongst the 97 entries for the compound, recurve and barebow archery competitions at the 2022 World Games in the USA, three names shine brightly.

These are three names who are using the global multisport event to further the sport of para archery around the world: Chile’s Mariana Zuniga and the USA’s Ben Thompson and Wendy Gardner.

The forward-thinking qualification process for the World Games includes ringfenced quota spots in each gender for a para athlete from the host country and one for the compound individual winner of the previous Paralympic Games.

After Tokyo 2020 champion Phoebe Paterson Pine declined her spot to concentrate on the ongoing para world ranking event currently underway in Nove Mesto, Paralympic silver medallist Zuniga took her place.

“They summoned me to a meeting and gave me the news, explained to me how important this tournament was and I accepted the challenge,” said the Chilean 19-year-old about being informed she would be going to Alabama.

“I am super happy and excited to be able to participate and represent my country in my first conventional mega event.”

That’s right. Zuniga is not only the first para archer from Chile to represent her country at the World Games, she is the first archer.

“It’s such an incredible experience,” said Zuniga. “I’m so grateful for being here as a para archer competing with all the best archers and teams in the world. I’m enjoying this experience. It’s incredible because it’s one of the biggest sporting events. I am grateful that I could come here. I have so much fun and I will enjoy it.”

Mariana Zuniga at the World Games 2022

Enjoying. That is what Zuniga will absolutely do 100%.

In Tokyo, she became the first-ever Paralympic archer and archery medallist from Chile, all while managing to combine immersing herself in the experience, although one without fans.

“She’s a really strong archer, she’s young and she really enjoys archery,” says world number one compounder Sara Lopez, who met Mariana for the first time at the 2019 worlds in Netherlands and is also competing in Alabama.

“They were finishing the para champs when we were arriving and we talked for a while. It’s really great to see her at the World Games, to see her represent her country and to just learn and have fun.”

“That’s the main goal of the world games – to have fun. To be there means you’re in the top of the world, you’re one of the best archers in the world. It’s a great opportunity for her, her country’s growing a lot, we saw that at the Bolivarian Games and it’s really great for her to have this opportunity at such a young age.”

For Thompson, who won the individual and team titles at those 2019 para world championships, the home nation fans in the USA could provide some extra motivation in 2022.

Being at home brings its advantages, but the 39-year-old is well-aware that the event is much more than being about his own personal performance.

“It’s pretty nice, it’s exciting, it’s shorter travel, although I wish we had picked a cooler (temperature) place,” said a laughing Thompson, who hails from Springfield.

“It’s super neat and really nice to have us included. It feels like we’re representing all the para archers here. It’s a little heavyweight, but hopefully I have a good shot and show I belong here, that’s the plan.”

“I want to represent the para class really well and make some of these able-bodies nervous.”

Zuniga echoes Thompson’s thoughts and despite her young age, also understands the importance of the event.

“Tokyo was also a great experience but now I am here competing with all the archers it’s motivating me a lot. I’m here to do my job and enjoy this new experience.”

“Para archers have the same abilities. In the future, there can be more para archers competing against able-bodied archers. We have all the potential to be there.”

Competition continues at the World Games 2022 with compound eliminations on Friday afternoon.

Quotes courtesy Guille Garcia, Andrea Sierra, Antoni Cichy