Vazquez’s remarkable return from injury, towards second Olympics

Ana Paula Vazquez competing at Tokyo 2020.


One year ago, the idea that Ana Paula Vazquez might compete in Paris seemed unthinkable.

A rising star in Mexico, she made her Olympic debut in Tokyo and then won the Pan American Championships at the end of 2022. But her development was hit hard when it emerged she had suffered a serious injury.

“The truth is that many people, when they see an injury, just take a step back and say, ‘well, that’s it, her sporting career is over’,” says Vazquez.

“What I’m doing now. They thought it was impossible, and I include myself. At some point, I thought it was impossible.”

Ana’s supraspinatus tendon, the one that supports the rotator cuff muscle that is so critical in recurve archery technique, was more than 50% detached from the bone. It had been quietly hindering her progress for two years.

“They told me the risks [of surgery] and I said, ‘well, I can’t shoot an arrow anymore without my hand shaking,” she explains. “I can’t shoot an arrow without pain.”

Vazquez took the plunge, in her own words, and had the operation.

For three months afterwards, Ana couldn’t move her arm, let alone train.

But with the help of a familiar name in Mexico – Songi Woo, who is credited with coaching Vazquez’s teammate Aida Roman to prominence ahead of her Olympic medal – the promising talent made her way back to competitive archery before the end of 2023.

“She helped me a lot. She changed my whole technique to use my back and not my shoulder,” says Ana. “My muscle mass had decreased. In general, I lost weight. My strength decreased.”

“Little by little, I came back.”

An incremental regimen of stretch bands and low-poundage bows was effective – but emotionally taxing. Vazquez was diagnosed with temporary depression. Life without the bow was tough.

“There were days where I was crying. I was very sad. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go crazy. I wanted to shoot, and I couldn’t,” she says. “I would go to the field and see the beginner kids shooting 30-pound bows and I couldn’t even pull the stretch band.”

The 23-year-old’s recovery was two-fold – physical and mental.

The time that Vazquez spent with a sports psychologist was forced by a time of crisis. But it has left a positive legacy.

“It helped me to be more patient, to be more intelligent and literally to say, ‘hey, wait, things are going to be alright’. Trust, trust and it worked,” she says.

She’s right… a year ago, Ana Paula’s Olympic dream had vanished.

Today, she’s a member of the Mexican team, which already has its ticket secured, that’s been tentatively named to Paris, alongside three-time Olympian Alejandra Valencia and the country’s latest emerging talent, Angela Ruiz.

“It was a long, long road and I can’t tell you I enjoyed every day of it because it was very painful. But I am grateful,” she says.

“I am grateful that what happened to me happened because I like the person I became more.”

“And I like the archer I am now. Totally.”

The Mexican team is set to compete in the Pan American Championships, where Ana will defend her individual title, in early April before heading to the first stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Shanghai, China.

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