Airdrie archer Haley Priest reflects on gold-medal shooting at Canada Winter Games

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While she was pleased to win a gold medal, Airdrie archer Haley Priest said the hardware around her neck doesn’t compare to the friendships and memories she brought back from the 2023 Canada Winter Games this past weekend.

Priest, 18, earned a fourth-place finish in the women’s individual compound division, as well as a gold medal in the mixed-teams event, alongside her Alberta teammate Adam Berge, of Sturgeon County.

“It felt really good to come home with that [gold medal] but I think the memories and all the friends I made there will definitely mean a lot more to me than the gold medal will,” she told the Airdrie City View upon returning from Prince Edward Island on Monday. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime.”

The Bert Church High School alumna was one of four archers representing Alberta at the Games this winter, and called the week-long trip to P.E.I. a roller-coaster with plenty of ups and downs. She said she was happy with her overall performance, despite a niggling wrist injury that affected her shooting.

“That definitely caused me some trouble when shooting, which made it difficult, but I ended up placing fourth individually,” Priest said. “I’m pretty proud of it. Obviously, I’d have liked to place a bit better, but being fourth in the country is not something to be upset about.”

Priest led after the first day of qualifying shoots in the women’s individual compound division, finishing March 1 with 566 out of a possible 600 points.

Her placement dropped to fourth place the next day with 558 points, but her cumulative score after the two days of qualifying shoots was enough to put her in third place heading into the quarterfinals.

There, Priest out-shot Saskatchewan’s Tasjia Boyle 139-136 on March 3 to advance to the semis. But her shot at winning gold came to an end with a semi-final defeat to Ontario’s Abby Bunn, who shot a 138 compared to Priest’s 136. She eventually had to settle for a place just off the podium.

“I was proud of what I put out there,” the Airdrie archer said. ““After the first qualifying day, I was sitting in first. That gave me a first-place win in regionals, which was another shoot happening when we were there. Basically, everyone across Canada submits a 600 score and the best score wins, so I got a good score and got a gold medal from there as well.”

In the mixed-team event, Priest and Berge dominated the competition to land the gold medal for Alberta on March 4, after outshooting an Ontario team 153-152 in the final.

“That was really nice, to come home with a gold medal,” she noted.

Away from the field of competition, Priest said she’ll cherish the friendships she made with other athletes in P.E.I., adding it was special to watch and learn about some of the other sports on display during the Winter Games.

“I was staying with the badminton girls, so we got to go support them a lot,” she said. “My male teammates were staying with the badminton boys, so we got to watch them, and we watched fencing – it was a lot of fun. And very long days.”

Priest enjoyed her time in P.E.I. so much, she said she even intends to return to the east coast province again later this year, albeit as a tourist this time.

“I actually plan on going back there this summer to get the full experience and dip my toes in the ocean, because it was very cold when we were there – a different cold than we have here,” she said.

Priest was the only Airdrie archer at the Winter Games, but one of her Alberta teammates lives just outside the city. Rocky View County’s Luke Smollett finished the week with the silver medal in the men’s individual recurve division, while also picking up bronze in the mixed-teams competition.

“He did very well – he was shooting very well the whole time,” Priest said of her local teammate. “He was first after both qualifying scores. He unfortunately got beat by Manitoba in the match-play [round] and got silver, but I’m very proud of him. It was really cool to see.”

Overall, Priest said the Canada Winter Games was an excellent experience and she wants to thank everyone who supported her trip and encouraged her to compete.

“I had a very good support team behind me, with my coaches, parents, teammates and friends there,” she said. “I just want to say thank you to all of them for everything they did for me.”

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