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On Target: A Competitive Archer’s Essential Travel Journey

COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport More Information

February 3, 2021

In this series, we check in with people using Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) for essential travel. While leisure travel has been largely put on hold during COVID-19 as we all work together to limit interactions and flatten the curve, we know some of you need to travel for work, family, emergencies, and other reasons that can’t wait. We are here for you now and whenever you are ready to return.

Gabi Sasai first picked up an Olympic recurve archery bow at the age of six after watching her father, David, practice. She hasn’t put it down since.

“I knew immediately I enjoyed it,” she said. “I immediately felt a connection to archery although I was hesitant to do it. Before that, I’d see people in the free shooting area, but they were all men.”

Today, Gabi now 14, is a member of the United States Archery Team in the Cadet Division (ages 15-17) and travels around the country to compete, always accompanied by David, her unofficial coach and biggest cheerleader.

The pandemic has made traveling to competitions more challenging but necessary for staying competitive in the sport. Gabi and David booked a flight from their home in Seattle to Columbus, Ohio last year to compete in one of the 2020 United States Archery Team Series tournaments. To stay on the National Team in 2021, Gabi needed to compete and place in a number of competitions to qualify.

Gabi and friends wearing masks at a competition.

Gabi’s short-term goal is to make the United States Archery Team Cadet National Division (ages 17-20). Long term, Gabi hopes to be a part of the senior United States National Team, which is the team that competes in World Cups, World Championships, and other international events. The Senior Division is also the age division where the Olympic team is selected from.

“I have big goals I want to accomplish,” she said. “I want to travel the world for archery. I love that feeling of satisfaction, that natural high I get from practicing and competing, and overall I love the archery community.”

FlyHealthy@SEA

Gabi and David were nervous to travel, but they came to the airport prepared, equipped with masks and hand sanitizer. When they arrived at SEA Airport to catch their flight, they noticed hand sanitizer stations distributed throughout the airport, floor decals that reinforce physical distancing, and loudspeaker announcements that instructed travelers and employees to wear masks and follow physical distancing requirements. There were plastic protective barriers in place at restaurants and ticketing counters to buffer travelers and airport employees. With no inflight food service, they  purchased snacks in the terminal before boarding their fight.

When they landed in Columbus and made it to their hotel room, David and Gabi sanitized everything. They checked to see if dining establishments met their cleaning standards.

“The weather was wild,” she said. “It was pouring rain and we had to wear a mask. It was not ideal.”

Gabi posing with targets.

On top of her game

She said COVID-19 also affected the social aspects and process-oriented aspects of the tournament.

“Normally we stand shoulder to shoulder but with COVID-19, there had to be six feet between every chair. Instead of  hugging friends and catching up we had to stand from a distance.”

This also affected the competition set up. Normally every archer has a coach stand behind them. Gabi said she normally doesn’t have a coach with her at tournaments; David will stand close by to encourage and play the coaching role. This wasn't possible this  year because COVID protection necessitated barriers between spectators and the archers. 

During practice and competitions, Gabi and all the judges and athletes must wear a face covering at all times while not shooting. Separators are placed in the athlete's seating area to maintain social distancing. When practicing or competing outdoors, just one person is assigned to a target and everyone must be six feet apart.

Gabi

In the end, Gabi ended up finishing fifth in the qualifiers and fourth after elimination. Gabi later participated in two more competitions on her journey to make the National Team — San Diego in October and Florida in November.

Note: Since this interview, Gabi made the 2021 United States Archery Team in the Junior Recurve Women’s division and as a member of the 2021 Cadet Recurve Women’s International Team. Congratulations!!

Due to fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions, staying “competition ready” between tournaments has been challenging. When the archery ranges where Gabi normally practiced were closed due to restrictions on indoor gatherings, she had to improvise. David and Gabi found an alternate location in a field on the property of the church they attend, the only place in the area where Gabi could practice shooting at 70 meters without being a safety hazard. Depending on the season, Gabi is at the range five days a week, training three to four hours per session and sometimes twice a day.

Gabi on the medal platform.

New normal

Like many students across the United States and the world, the pandemic has also dramatically impacted Gabi’s academic and social life. She began her freshman year of high school this fall online.

“It’s been very strange not to be able to enjoy this experience in person,” she said. “It’s not ideal for me. I try to compartmentalize a lot. For me, home is meant for relaxation and recovery and school is meant for work. Normally, if I have homework to do, I’ll stay at school until I finish and then come home.”

Gabi wearing a mask

Trips for international archery tournaments are also on hold for now. Gabi had been planning to represent the United States at the Pan American Championships in Mexico, but that was canceled due to COVID-19.

Gabi is looking forward to travel restrictions easing for future tournaments and outside of archery, being able to sit in restaurants while traveling and enjoy her food.

“I’m also looking forward to being able to touch and hug my friends at the tournaments who I can’t see often. It’s also weird not being able to shake hands after matches. The smallest things you wouldn’t think you’d miss, you miss when you aren’t able to do them.”

Learn more about Gabi’s archery journey and follow her on Instagram.

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