Archery: 'There's just something magical about shooting a bow'

Archery: 'There's just something magical about shooting a bow'
Archery classes are taught at the Mt. Scott Community Center in southeast Portland. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com.

PORTLAND, Ore. - "I'm going to be trying archery next," I told my mom.

I knew she had been an archer in college and would be excited that I was going to learn the sport that she had loved all those years ago. Every so often, she would talk about those days and get a little wistful. From what I hear, she was pretty good.

It's been decades since she's picked up a bow and arrow. These days, her hands shake with age, her hip bothers her quite a bit and she tires easily. Her archery days are long gone.

I thought about my mom when I picked up a bow for the first time, swung an arrow over my shoulder and placed it in the nocking point (a new term I had just learned). I pictured her in my mind and saw her in a different light - a young woman with steady arms, steely focus and graceful form.

I smiled at the thought and then brought my focus back to the task at hand. I looked down the arrow at the target and had no idea where exactly I should be sighting it. So I just pulled back, released and hoped for the best.

I didn't hit the bulls-eye (that would have been amazing), but at least my arrow didn't go flying off in some random direction - I actually hit the target. I felt a little proud of myself and couldn't wait to try another arrow.

I was with a group of kids learning target archery at the Mt. Scott Community Center in Southeast Portland. I felt a little out of place being the only adult in the class, but instructors Jesse Wiper and Ricardo Volkmann, and the kids I was with, made me feel right at home.

"For people who have never picked up a bow - it's a sport you'll fall in love with, so be careful," Volkmann told me. 

He was right - I was more than a little hooked after I finally did hit a bulls-eye about halfway through the class.

In this image released by Lionsgate, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from "The Hunger Games." (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Murray Close)

Archery has been around for a long time - bows and arrows have been used for hunting, combat and sport for thousands of years.

But it's seeing a bit of a resurgence, which some folks attribute to The Hunger Games - where the character of Katniss Everdeen displays her mastery of archery.

For those who have seen the movie, it's hard not to picture actress Jennifer Lawrence running through the woods with a quiver full of arrows on her back - "may the odds be ever in your favor" haunting her every step.

Both the movie - and the book that preceded it - were big hits and brought archery back into the limelight.

"I picked up my bow after reading The Hunger Games just like everyone else did," Volkmann said. But he had already been into archery long ago.

"I was a hunter when I was a little kid," he said. "I grew up bow hunting in the 70s and I hadn't picked up a bow in about 32 years. And I just picked up my bow and got re-addicted to it."

"There's just something magical about shooting a bow," he added. "Every culture and every nation has had archers for survival, defense and sport for thousands of years. I think there's something inherent in all cultures that people are attracted to archery."

Ricardo Volkmann teaches an archery student proper form. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com.

For kids, archery not only teaches them valuable skills but helps them feel good about who they are and what they can do.

"That's what I want to bring to archery - to teach kids to build confidence in themselves," said Volkmann. "Once you see a kid hit a bulls eye and they light up, it's better than Christmas."

And for kids who aren't into team sports, like soccer or football, this offers them a sport where they can challenge themselves as individuals.

"We had a hard time getting him into any kind of organized sports," said Sylvia Baltzer, whose son, Oliver, was taking the class. "This is something that he's passionate about and you can tell. It's the first sport that he has really latched on to."

"I'm just amazed," she added. "I'm just proud that he is into it. And the concentration - he can concentrate better. And he's a little more serious because you have to be all about safety. He takes it really seriously, which is nice to see."

"It's really good for focus and concentration," said Volkmann. "We have a lot of kids with attention deficit disorders and I've seen miracles here."

"What keeps me coming back are the success stories, like a young man dealing with the affects of autism," said Wiper. "He is a class act and a very good archer. He has succeeded in learning the art of compound archery with sights and has become very good at it. I remember the first days working with him and it taking him a while to get it. His parents said 'just so you know, he has a disability.' My first thought was 'that's fine - some of the best archers I know are in wheelchairs, have autism or some type of disability.' He is now able to cope in his own way and can now add archery to the list of his many abilities."

For Wiper, archery is something that's been passed down in his family - as a kid he shot at targets with his dad and now his daughter (pictured below) is mastering the discipline.

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com.

"Despite not being the most athletic person growing up, archery was a sport that I became very good at," Wiper said. "I could practice with my family and archery has allowed me to pass on the lessons of focus, practice and the ability to let go of daily stresses and focus on one thing - your form."

Wiper said he participates in all disciplines of archery - the study of war, hunting and Olympic target shooting - but keeps the focus on target archery for his classes.

"We do not endorse any other disciplines in archery during class time to allow all to participate," he said. "It is important to know that target archery is very different from hunting - many archers do not agree with hunting."

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This is the fourth installment in a five-part series aimed at getting you to step outside your comfort zone and try something new this summer. Other topics: