Call it the Katniss effect.
First, the heroine of the best-selling Hunger Games books and blockbuster film helped launch archery into the pop-culture spotlight. Then came the May 4 release of Marvel’s The Avengers, which features the Robin Hood–like Hawkeye. Not to be outdone, come June 22, Pixar will release Brave, offering another damsel causing distress with her sharpshooting skills. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Summer Olympics in London will gather the best archers in the world to show the rest of us how it’s done without special effects.
With so may arrows flying, USA Archery, the governing body of the sport, reports that its Facebook and Twitter numbers have tripled in the past year, noting a particular upswing in the past three months, especially among young people (15–17-year-olds are now the organization’s largest division nationally). But what does it take to stand out in the crowd? Here are a few traits the pros say are typical of an outstanding marksman.
While archery isn’t an overtly physical sport, it does develop strength and flexibility. “It’s more about body alignment and body control,” says Tom Havel, president of the Illinois Target Archery Association. While most people can pull back a bow with little trouble, “You need to learn proper form,” says Stephanie Miller, a 2008 Olympic archer and 2012 hopeful who grew up in Naperville and now works for World Sport Chicago. “And then it’s about learning to make everything consistent. You have to really work so that your body can do the same motions over and over.”
“Archery really builds mental focus,” says Gabe Querol, a coach with the Chicago Bow Hunters Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD), based in Bolingbrook. “You need complete concentration on what you’re doing. You can’t think about the last arrow or the score. You just think of the next shot.” Kim Hannah, a Chicago archery coach who works with World Sport Chicago, agrees. “The sport really doesn’t discriminate by body type or athletic ability,” she says. “It’s a very calming sport. You have to be so relaxed when doing it. You need to clear your mind.” Olympic-bound archer Kristin Braun is a prime example of a focused athlete; she incorporates yogic and visualistic meditation into her archery training.
It’s become a sports cliché, but for archery, “slow and steady” really is the model for success. “It’s definitely a sport that rewards those who stick with it,” says Kathy Miller, Stephanie’s mother and an archery coach for more than 10 years. “It’s something that anyone can pick up pretty quickly. But to get to the competitive level takes a lot of dedication.” Stephanie agrees: “I think the most difficult thing for me was the time commitment,” she says of her road to the Olympics. “You can learn the sport shooting once a week. But [at the elite level], you have very structured practices and lots of competition. It takes a lot of time to get to that level and stay at that level.” But that’s not to say the sport is solitary. “It’s an extremely social sport,” she says. “It’s a lot like golf that way. Once you get involved, it’s easy to make friends.” Sounds like a bull’s-eye.
Where to let it fly...
World Sport Chicago
The athletic club holds classes in conjunction with the Chicago Park District at Pulaski Park.
1419 W Blackhawk St (312-861-4842, worldsportchicago.org).
Lincoln Park Archery Club
This group offers clinics as well as individual instruction at the Lincoln Park Archery Range inside Lincoln Park.
Cornelia Ave and Lake Shore Dr (773-477-4560, lincolnparkarcheryclub.org).
The Aurora-based development club organizes several tournaments per year. Most practices take place at the Fox Valley Park District’s Lippold Park.
2001 River Rd, Batavia (630-369-9459, chicagolandjoad.org).
Chicago Bow Hunters
The Bolingbrook-based development club draws members from throughout the Western Suburbs.
320 Charlestown Dr, Bolingbrook (630-739-9844, chicagobowhunters.com).
Archery Bow Range
This range hosts leagues, and offers instruction and clinics in Humboldt Park.
1757 N Kimball Ave (archerybowrangechicago.com).