Natalie Howell ’22 will compete in this summer’s World University Games in China— one of just three female archers from America who have qualified for the Olympics-like event.
“I’m really excited to go,” she said. “I still feel like it hasn’t sunk in and I don’t think it truly will until it’s almost time to go.”
Howell, who is from Falmouth, discovered archery at summer camp when she was 7 and immediately fell in love. She began taking lessons soon after, but archery remained solely a hobby for her until she hit her late teens. That’s when a friend suggested she participate in a national tournament.
“The very first one went pretty bad, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “Maine’s not known for outdoor archery because of, you know, winter. But that’s where I met my coach who I’m still with now.”
While that first tournament didn’t go well, later ones did. When it came time for college, Howell looked at schools with archery teams, but she only found two and both were out of state. While archery was a big part of her life, it wasn’t going to be her whole life. She wanted to be a teacher and she wanted to teach in Maine — USM could help her do that.
“I had no desire to leave the state of Maine and I knew if I stayed here I would get (access to) districts that I would want to teach in one day and I figured it would be a really good way to make those connections. And I would be able to keep shooting and practicing like I did in high school,” she said. “It was kind of a no-brainer.”
So for the past four years, Howell has taken classes at USM as a History major and has worked toward her K-8 teacher certification — all while commuting to Connecticut every other weekend to work with her coach, a five-time Olympian who lives there.
Because USM doesn’t have an archery team, Howell couldn’t participate in collegiate competitions. Instead, she joined competitions open to her age division. When the qualifications for the World University Games opened up this year, however, Howell decided it was time to get her status as a student confirmed so she could enter. It proved easier than expected.
“I heard from people at different schools telling me how hard it was for them,” she said. “But I just had the papers printed out from USA Archery and I brought them here to Athletic Director Al Bean and he signed them off, then the Registrar, she signed them off. Then I just sent them in over email and within an hour I had the eligibility for collegiate.”
She knew she wanted to try out for the World University Games’ American team. But with 20 of the country’s top college archers vying for just three spots, she didn’t think she would actually make it.
“Going in, it could go many different ways,” she said. “For me, when I shoot I don’t keep track of where I’m ranked during events because I don’t like knowing where I am compared to other people. So when I finished I pulled out my phone and looked at the rankings and saw I was in third and was shocked.”
Howell immediately called her dad. She was so stunned and excited that she didn’t notice when a friend took her bow from her hands.
“I finally got off and was like, ‘Wait a second, where’d my bow go?’” Howell said. “They were like, ‘It’s in the car ready to go. You were so excited, I was afraid you were going to drop it.’”
The World University Games will be held from June 26 through July 7. It will involve 18 sports and 150 countries, making it close to an Olympics-level event.
Howell won’t be idle while she waits. She is scheduled to compete in two national tournaments between now and then.
“I’ve got quite the schedule for flying. Between the end of May and July, I think I’m home for maybe three weeks,” she said.
Oh, and there’s Commencement. Howell will graduate with her bachelor’s degree on May 7.
Howell plans to become a teacher. And maybe an Olympian.
“Either Paris in 2024 or Los Angeles in 2028,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be good experience being on the world stage.”