Fish danced out of the water between archers and their targets at a World Cup competition in Shanghai, China.
In the distance at a World Cup event in Antalya, Turkey, waves crashed and people jumped off cliffs. Up close to where the archers stood, a jumbotron projected images of the competitors.
“Sometimes it seems like they’re just trying to distract you,” Robin Garrett said, laughing.
Not on a scale remotely approaching the Olympics, though.
Both in terms of the variety of the potential disturbances in the force — in this case a venue that will include a picturesque backdrop of both Christ the Redeemer and a favela — and the sheer magnitude of the event itself.
“I know that there will be a rush of emotions that I can’t imagine up to this point,” said Garrett’s son, Zach, the product of Wellington, Mo., (pop. 812) who will compete Saturday in the archery team event.
By day’s end, Garrett and teammates Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski could earn Team USA’s first medal of the Rio Olympics.
Ellison and Kaminski were part of the silver-medal winning team in London, after all, and following the preliminary ranking rounds on Friday the trio was in second place entering the nitty-gritty of the competition Saturday.
As much or more than in any sport, the key variable ahead will be the mental game, which Garrett has put a special emphasis on over the last year as he continues his residence at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
Seeing a sports psychologist and embracing the benefits of positive self-talk and such has helped enable Garrett, 21, to become what he called “decently good” at managing would-be stressors.
Good enough to be ranked third in the world entering the Olympics, a competition he can acknowledge is something beyond any scope he’s known even as he’s able to frame it in perspective.
“It is overwhelming,” he said earlier this week, referring to everything from security to the athlete’s village and even the meeting with the media he was finishing up. “This is a perfect example: I’ve never been in a press conference before. This is a lot of fun.”
Just the same …
“As a general rule of thumb when you get to the Olympics, you need to do what got you here …” he said. “No matter how big the scale gets, the target’s always the same distance, and you’re always using the same bow. It’s the same game.”
That day, his maternal grandfather taught the boy how to use it, and they walked all over the family farm shooting it. Less at any targets than for distance.
A few weeks ago, Robin Garrett held that very bow, cracked from being drawn back too many times but preserved by duct-tape and wrapped in leather and presumably functional enough still.
Soon, Zach got into making them himself and shooting at targets. He entered into 4-H competition at age 8 with those and the bows his mother found him on Craigslist and eBay and at garage sales.
His instinctive talent led to him becoming obsessed, really, and his mother can remember him talking about the Olympics even then.
So he just had to take his bow with him to shoot in Springfield, Mo., even on a weekend trip there to move the mother of his father, Andy.
That led to an absurdly random sequence of meetings that morphed into his chance to be tutored by Steve Cornell, an Olympic Archery Development program coach.
“Had he not been so insistent on taking the bow (to Springfield), none of this would have happened,” Robin Garrett said.
If she didn’t know this was serious by then, she had a further hint when Zach took Cornell to heart when Cornell’s first move was to take away his bow and made him work exclusively with a stretch band for months to develop technique.
In front of his mirror, in hallways between classes at Wellington-Napoleon High, on Skype with Cornell, Zach Garrett could be seen pulling back the oversized rubberband.
And if there was any lingering doubt that he had a single-minded focus on this, Robin Garrett still has the goal sheet Cornell gave him in 2010, the sheet upon which Zach wrote of his desire to become an Olympian.
Around that time, Zach also decided the money he’d been saving for his first car would be better used to splurge on a more up-to-date recurve bow.
“I’ve never heard of that,” said his mother, a schoolteacher who by then found it easy to help the cause — including driving him to Springfield about a few weekends a month for a year.
If he was that dedicated, she figured, “I’m not going to be the reason why” he can’t maximize his talent.
That’s also why she engineered an archery addition to the machine shed, complete with heater and floodlights, from where Zach could shoot at night or in any weather across the cow pasture.
“It’s kind of like ‘Field of Dreams,’” Robin Garrett said.
In recent weeks, Zach has reflected plenty about all these phases of his journey.
But they’ll be in a compartment here, where he’s “set some boundaries” even with his parents and sister and girlfriend.
Maybe he’ll see them once or twice in the days to come, which also will feature the individual competition.
“If they want to watch, they can watch,” he said. “But that’s it right now.”
Because right now it’s about seeing only the target and nothing else around it. And going from the Field of Dreams to realizing a dream.