Recently, Chris bought me an early birthday present: a bow and arrow.
The idea came to me some time ago: I need a stress release. Sure, I workout but now more than ever the workouts have purpose and require deep thought. There are heart rate zones to hit, wattages to reach. Gone are the days of just riding to ride or running to pass time. Through each workout my head echoes the words of coach Paul (get after it, Liz) as numbers flash before my eyes.
As much as I love to swim, bike, run, it was time for something else. But what? It’s not like I could take up stair climbing or rowing or anything that required extreme cardiovascular work. Bull riding? How much would it cost to buy a bull? And is there really room in my house for something that big? Golf? Too much time on my feet. Plus I don’t look good in white pants. Guitar Hero? My husband would never have it. Rock climbing, tennis, stitchery…all good options but none really hooked me right away. Then what?
A few days later, I met with a friend. After coffee, she told me to come out to her car. She opened the trunk to reveal a giant case. Inside was her bow with custom arrows. She had just taken up archery. She taught me how to hold the bow and pull it back. Warned me against dry firing and then encouraged me to join her at the archery range.
When I got home, it hit me. Archery would be the perfect release both figuratively and literally. I asked Chris a few questions about shooting and he came home the next day with a bow. I couldn’t wait. That evening we headed to the archery range. Oddly enough we have a range about 20 minutes from our house. Tucked away in the quietude of a local forest preserve, the range has about 10 different targets and a well-organized shooting line. I was ready to release.
The first time Chris and I went to the range I was surprised to see that we were not the only ones. Who shoots bow and arrow in the suburbs? Apparently tall men with thick foreign accents and fancy arrows that make a high speed thwap when they hit the target. He seemed serious. I seemed out of place. But I had my husband and a weapon. I was safe.
I took a few shots. The first few arrows I realized I had a lot of work to do. It’s much harder than point and shoot. There is an art to shooting and I wanted to learn. After a few rounds it was clear that I had a lot of learning to do - arrows were flying all over the place. And who knew how well they could hide? We immediately lost 3. And broke 2 more.
I kept shooting rounds, pausing after the arrows were all out to wait for the other man to finish his shots. He would yell clear which I realized was the cue that meant you could now collect your arrows without fear of being shot in the ass. It took me about 10 times longer to find my arrows because they were all over the place. So long that the man started helping us. I was that bad of a shot.
After a few more rounds, Chris left to go swim. I was alone and by this time 4 other men had arrived. Men with fancy bows, arrows, arrow fix-it machines, scopes, wrist guards. There I stood the only woman holding a camouflaged bow worth about 30 bucks with the word BUCKMASTER written across it. I told Chris I wanted to put stickers on it but then realized if I did something like that I might get an arrow or two to my ass.
But I held my ground. I shot my arrows and by this time I hit the target more than not. I was starting to pick up the pattern for how to hit the target. And then I realized how good this really was. You see, I wasn’t just looking for stress release. I was looking for some help with focus, someone to center my mind and sight. Archery was the perfect sport.
Don’t get me wrong. I can focus. Believe you me. But lately there are so many distractions in my mind. I wondered if I was losing my ability to push everything else aside and focus on the task at hand. I figured a bow and arrow would help me redevelop the focus skills. Load the bow, point the arrow, quiet the mind, set your sights on the target, relax and release. And that was the key – to relax, then release. Don’t fight or force it. Set your sights, take your aim and let the arrow go.
This didn’t come to me the first time. It took a few more times at the range. To block out the distractions of other arrows and archers. The planes in the sky. The cars on the nearby road. It took a quieting of my mind, tunnel vision for the target and then a deep breath. A focus on form. A careful slowness in the set up. Absorption in the task at hand. What I realized is that there is a skill. There is a way to shoot the arrows that takes more than just aim. It’s a thought process, it’s a precision sport.
Sport is sport – no matter which you do. Each has a process and an art. It’s not just brawn, genetic ability, doing the physical work or following a well-crafted schedule. If that was the case, we’d all be winners. There is more to it than that. There is a more mindful and tactful side. I need to reconnect to that. That is what it takes.
The other day I went back to the range. My aim has much improved. Before each shot I took my time. I thought about the target far away. Then I connected it to my sport – triathlon. I thought about my next goal. I saw it as the bullseye. Said the word FOCUS and let the arrow take its path. Times I relaxed, thought through my form and pushed distractions out of my mind, I would hit the target. Times I doubted myself or rushed the process, the arrow would tumble into the field. Eventually I found my form, I quieted the mind. I hit more than I missed.
My next race is getting closer. Paul asked me for my race plan. I was hesitant at first to open him up to my crazy mental voo-doo imagery but I figured he should know. I’m visual. I’m vivid. I see it to believe it and then do my best to become it. Mental strategies are a big part of any athlete’s success. Those that think it’s just about doing the training and showing up at the start line – you’re missing half the race. The best part of the race – the race in your head. The strategies that unfold in your mind.
I’ve got an arsenal of these strategies and my success will be measured by my ability to use them at the right time. Above all to stay on the right path, to focus, to set my sight on the target, find my form, relax and let the arrow go. To stay on the straight path, eyes on the prize, moving swiftly with a thwap when I finally hit the goal.
It will take a few more rounds but I’m practicing and pointing myself in the right direction. I'll get there. It takes time but anything worthwhile always does.
You always hit what you aim for. If that happens to be nothing, you'll get it every time.