Channeling Katniss: Six Things I Learned at Archery Class
  • August 20, 2016
  • via GIPHY

    My hair isn’t long enough to braid, but that didn’t stop me from channeling my inner Katniss at a recent archery 101 session hosted by the Chicago Athletic Association and Archery Bow Range Chicago.

    I never attended sleepaway camp growing up, so this archery class was the first time I picked up a bow and let an arrow fly. As anyone who knows me well can attest, I have terrible hand-eye coordination, so that fact that I hit the target every time I stepped up to shoot was a huge accomplishment in and of itself. There was even one time I was just an inch or two from the bullseye. Are the Tokyo Olympics in my future?

    Let’s be real though. Archery is tough. I was approximately 25 feet away from the target, which is a far cry from the distances Olympic competitors take on. My almost-bullseye was almost certainly a lucky fluke. Nonetheless, I did learn a few helpful tips during my first archery class.

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    We All Have a Dominant Eye.

    Maybe this is common knowledge, but it was news to me that everyone has a dominant eye. And it’s not as simple as left-handed people are left-eye dominant or right-handed people are right-eye dominant.

    If you’re curious to figure out which of your eyes is really pulling its weight, make a quarter-sized hole between your pointer fingers and your thumb, as so:

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    Hold your arms out straight in front of you and look through the opening at something across the room. Continue looking at that object as you pull your hands back toward your face. Your hands should pull back to whichever eye is dominant. In terms of applying this knowledge to archery class, you should position your body sideways with your dominant eye farther away from the target.

    Bows Are Heavy.

    Am I the only one who didn’t realize that bows are quite heavy? To get into shooting position, you hold the bow out straight from your side with the same arm as your non-dominant eye. For me, that meant holding the bow in my left hand and trying not to let my arm shake as I clicked the arrow onto the metal string. Then I positioned the three middle fingers of my right hand just under the arrow on the taut string and pulled back hard.

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    So it’s really a workout on both arms. Plus, archery is yet another sport that requires strong core strength. Keep that tummy tucked in tight as you release the arrow with a satisfying zing.

    Patience is a Virtue.

    With 30 people enrolled in the class, we had to take turns shooting our arrows. So I would send three arrows flying in the span of about three minutes, and then I had to wait 10 minutes to go again. I would have preferred to maintain my momentum, but since that wasn’t an option, I had to think carefully each time I stepped back up to the line – there were a few times I picked up the bow and couldn’t even remember how to hold it.

    That said, being forced to revisit proper technique every 10 minutes compelled me to slow down and take each shot seriously. This was also the moment when I stopped channeling Katniss and started channeling Eminem. (“You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes one in a lifetime.”) The stakes weren’t that high, of course, but each turn felt like a precious commodity, so I treated it as such.

    Practice Makes Perfect.

    Given how infrequently we were shooting our arrows, it was shocking to discover that our class improved over time. In the beginning, people were missing their targets entirely. When we collected the arrows after each group shot, most were stuck in the outer rings of the target or scattered across the floor. But by our last turn, there weren’t any arrows on the floor, and there were quite a few embedded in the inner rings. Several people hit multiple bullseyes. It’s incredible how quickly you can learn and improve on a new skill.

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    Stay Loose.

    After my first round of shooting, the instructor told me he could see the veins bulging out of my left arm. Nope, that’s not a good thing. He reminded me to bend my left arm slightly and hold the bow loosely, as if it were a paper cup of coffee. I tried to keep those tips in mind each time I stepped forward, but don’t forget, those bows are heavy (see above!). It’s also hard to stay relaxed when pulling a very taut metal string up near your eye. Still, if I took a deep meditative breath before each shot, it helped loosen me up.

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    Aim Down to Go Up.

    This counterintuitive bit of advice made a huge difference. If you aim at the bullseye, you’ll probably miss it by a mile. But if you aim down – way lower than you think is logical – you’ll have a much better chance of hitting the sweet spot. Someone with a better understanding of physics or optics or whatever can tell you why this is the case. For me, it was enough to know that down means up in the sometimes topsy-turvy world of archery. Katniss would be proud.

    About Kelsey Schagemann

    Kelsey’s fitness journey started at age 14 when she moved from St. Louis, Mo., to Portland, Ore., also known as Nike headquarters and the home state of Steve Prefontaine. She was one of only two eighth grade girls on the cross country team and didn’t particularly like running in the rain, but she doggedly stuck with it. Running became Kelsey’s exercise of choice for the next several years as she logged countless miles on her high school and college cross country and track teams. Nowadays, you’re much more likely to find Kelsey in the spin studio (absolutely her favorite workout), lifting weights, perfecting tree pose or biking to/from DePaul University in Chicago, where she’s an associate editor. When she’s not working out, Kelsey is often trying new recipes, keeping the library in business, supporting her husband’s team (go Illini basketball!) and writing for publications such as Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Melo, Fiterazzi, PR Week, and, of course, aSweatLife. Kelsey holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.