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Jake Kaminski is shown here in action during the London Archery Classic at Lord's Cricket Ground on Oct. 4, 2011 in London, England. He tells TODAY.com that his dream as a child was racing cars.
Before U.S. Olympic archer Jake Kaminski began firing arrows at high speeds 70 meters away at a world-class level of accuracy, he had a different need for speed.
When he was 7 years old, Kaminski raced go-karts under the tutelage of his father, taking a baby step to what potentially could have been a different life. Bob Kaminski had been working on engines and racing all types of cars since the late 1960s, and his son was behind the wheel in organized races before the rules technically allowed it.
“I was supposed to be 9 years old to be allowed to race, but I was doing it when I was 7,’’ the 23-year-old Kaminski told TODAY.com. “We just told everybody I was 9 so that I could go do it.’’
As a 5-year-old, Kaminski had gotten his first taste of the sport that would become his passion when he won an archery bow at a local fire company event. However, as his father soon witnessed, racing was growing on him by the day. Go-karts are usually the first step on the journey in the youth pipeline all the way to NASCAR or Indy Car racing.
“When I was young I think I did more racing than I shot,’’ he said. “Shooting was just kind of fun in the backyard.”
As much as he loved racing, Bob felt he had to intervene in order to prevent his son’s potential in archery possibly go to waste.
“I wanted to keep racing cars, but my dad wouldn’t let me race anymore because he didn’t want me to get the racing bug,’’ Kaminski said. “He knew I would stop shooting.’’
In 2005, the family moved from upstate New York to Florida to escape the harsh winters and the state income tax. Bob bought a racing school that is currently located in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and performs grassroots training and vocational education. The school also allows Jake to occasionally drive a stock car on an asphalt or dirt track in the few free moments outside of his archery training, which he began seriously in 2003. That year he switched from the compound bow commonly used by hunters to the recurve bow that is the only model used in the Olympics.
For the last six years it has been all about archery, as he has primarily lived in the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., training an average of 70 hours per week. Last year alone, he traveled for 170 days to more than 20 competitions around the world, and he estimates that he’s shot 450,000 arrows in the last six years. He also got married last year and has since bounced back and forth between his original hometown of Elma, N.Y., Florida and training in California.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride, either, as he admittedly considered walking away from the sport in 2007. After making the Junior World Team in 2006, he second-guessed himself when he performed poorly in his first competition because he had changed his technique shortly before the event.
“In ’07, there was a time where I was trying to decide whether or not to continue,’’ he said. “I hadn’t shot well for a couple of years, and then I missed the ’08 (Olympic) team.’’
At that time, Kaminski got a tattoo of the words “I am” on his left hand, which he has to see every time he places his hand in the bow for a shot.
“The tattoo was an affirmation and a motivation factor because I knew I could do it,’’ Kaminski said. “I just had to keep pushing on every shot.’’
His decision to stick with it was rewarded with a berth in this summer’s Olympics, where he is part of an American team expected to challenge South Korea for the gold. He also is ranked in the top 15 internationally as an individual and has a shot to medal. The archery medals will be the first ones contested in London, only one day after the opening ceremonies.
“The first emotion was total relief because it was worth the six years of training that I put in, and since then it’s been complete excitement,’’ he said. “I’m just going to go out and enjoy every moment, and that’s all I’m focused on.’’
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