Tomorrow will be exactly one year since I was introduced to the exciting world of archery. It has been an unforgettable year full of new friends, travel, competitions, great scores, terrible scores and a bunch of technical terms I can never remember. If only I’d known back then how much my life would change in the following months thanks to archery.
In my opinion, it isn’t one of those main university sports that people would instantly think of. The reaction I get most of the time when I tell people I do archery is: “Wow, what made you join archery?” And my answer is: “I actually have no idea.” I first wanted to join in second year, but for some reason never got that far and joined something I was already familiar with instead – tennis. In third year I was prioritising someone else before my own well-being and happiness, so I didn’t join then either. When I started my Master’s it felt like I had been given another chance so I finally got my act together and went to the taster sessions.
The only time I’d ever shot a bow before was on a school trip to a medieval castle where all the children had a go at shooting a flimsy string-on-a-stick. Usually I prepare for new situations like this by doing some research and learning the basics beforehand, but this time I rocked up without even knowing what a proper bow looks like, never mind acknowledging the existence of arm guards or finger tabs. I was expecting it to be really difficult and heavy to pull but I was positively surprised at how natural it felt.
Shooting barebow in the beginning felt like something was missing the whole time. It was so frustrating because I didn’t know what it was. But then, on a wonderful Wednesday evening in October, we were introduced to my new best friend – the sight. I instantly fell in love with recurve and I’ve only shot one session with barebow since; and that was only because I wanted a go at left-handed.
The passion and dedication I have developed since didn’t appear overnight. I believe that our lives are mainly shaped by our decisions, and I made the decision to be serious about archery. In a way, it was a challenge for myself, because I wanted to break from the habit of switching hobbies as soon as I became good at something. There are still so many different activities and sports I would like to try, but at twenty-two years old, after doing gymnastics, tennis and street dance, I realised that it was time to choose one sport and be dedicated to it. At first, I turned up to every session, because due to being an arts research student my schedule was basically empty and I needed to get out of the house. However, as weeks passed, I realised that I was getting rather good at archery, so the need to get out of the house was replaced by curiosity about how far I could push myself and motivation to beat my personal best.
Another part about myself I chose to challenge was my dislike for sports competitions. I had always thought that I had an extremely non-competitive personality, but archery made me realise that it is, in fact, the complete opposite. It is the perfect sport for me, because at competitions we’re not really trying to beat other people. Instead, the most important person to beat is yourself. I never compare myself to people around me, and I also cannot stand other archers comparing their scores to mine, because everything about us is so different. Our bodies are unique, each bow is different, shooting styles can vary so much; therefore, the most important thing is to keep your head in the game, concentrate on your own shooting and remember that consistency is what makes you truly successful.
I can clearly pinpoint this one conversation I had with an experienced archer that changed things for me. He was telling us that there is no point in being disappointed if we don’t place at competitions, because there might be other novices who take private lessons and start shooting above 500 after a few months. Knowing this probably made me a bit more relaxed at the time, but thinking about it now, I might have unconsciously taken that up as a challenge. 500 is the magical milestone every beginner wants to beat, and for me that was in February, five months after picking up a bow for the first time. I started making huge jumps after the Christmas break as I would beat my PB almost every time when scoring a Portsmouth. People often ask me what my secret is. It’s quite simple – turn up to every single training session, be focused and serious about improving your technique. If you feel stuck, go and ask a coach or an experienced archer to look at your shooting, because there will always be something to point out.
In my novice year I got 3 golds, 4 silvers and 3 bronzes in total from individual and team categories. These included NEUAL Novice Champs, NEUAL Indoor and Outdoor Champs, BUCS Qualifiers, BUCS Indoor and Outdoor Champs. It was such a good year. Definitely because of the success at competitions, but mainly for the amazing friends archery has brought into my life.
Okay, fine, it wasn’t anything serious this time, the sub-title just seemed more striking.
So what did my dedication and frequent training give me? Shoulder pain. Upper back pain. Lower back pain. Arm pain. Bum pain… yeah. Thankfully, Liverpool University’s Athletic Union members can sign up for physio appointments on campus, so that’s where I headed after I couldn’t sleep on either side at night anymore. I’d never had a physio appointment before, so the back-cracking and weird exercises were a new experience. Also, has anyone else noticed that physios are always really attractive? It was definitely awkward when the pain moved to my lower back and the appointments consisted of a good-looking Irish guy massaging my bum for ten minutes… The fact that I have mastered the British awkwardness didn’t really help in this situation either. (What would Bridget Jones do?)
In the end I had about six appointments in total over the course of five months, and the hot Irish physio discharged me after I’d become strong enough and the pain was almost gone. He told me that I will likely be needing more physio from time to time, but the exercises will be similar to what I have already been given. Fortunately, the pain was never anything dangerous, mainly muscle strain due to going from never having done archery before to training four times a week so rapidly. The uncomfortable sensation in my shoulders always returns for a few weeks after a longer break in training; therefore, doing the exercises every day and warming up before shooting is crucial in order to avoid permanent injuries.
My First Bow
The. Most. Exciting. Thing. Everrr. Who doesn’t want a new shiny toy? There are so many things about buying a bow you have to think of so I don’t know where to start… I guess the first thing is to make sure that you have reached a certain level of consistency in your technique before spending all that money. Shortly before driving to Merlin Archery in Loughborough, I had shot my current PB of 552, so it is fair to say that at this point I was definitely ready to buy my own bow. Going to an archery shop probably makes most archers jump up and down like excited children, because you always find something that you most definitely n e e d to add to your bow. It’s absolutely ecstatic until you find out that they charge you dozens of pounds for a small metal blob.
It was one very tiring day, because when we finally got to Loughborough, the queue was already quite long and we ended up waiting for a good few hours. Fortunately, I already had a riser so I went straight to trying different limbs. Obviously, the three times more expensive fibre foam limbs felt significantly smoother, but I was willing to pay for them as I knew I wouldn’t be going up in poundage any time soon. Five months later I still haven’t wound my limbs back up, because my body is still getting used to the weight of the whole setup. Picking the colours for everything was easy because my favourite colours are conveniently the colours of both of my countries’ flags – blue, black and white, so I was very happy when the limbs had those exact colours. The hardest part was choosing the short rods, because the ones that matched the long rod were way too heavy, but the blue on the lighter ones didn’t match everything else. In the end I went for the triad short rods because no one else had those and archers can be quite snobby about uniqueness. As for arrows, I went for ACCs, because they can be shot both outdoors and indoors. I will never forget how good the first shot with my bow felt. My mouth fell open and I just gaped at my friends like an idiot because it was like a revelation after using cheap club equipment for seven months.
Here’s what I’m currently using:
Riser: W&W Inno Max 25”
Limbs: WNS Elite Fibre Foam 68”/28#
Sight: Shibuya Ultima II RC Carbon
Long rod: Mybo Aeris 30”
Short rods: MAC Triad 11”
Pressure button: Shibuya DX
Arrow rest: Shibuya Ultima
Unfortunately, I won’t be a student anymore this year, so NEUAL and BUCS will have to wait until I grace UK higher education with my presence again and decide to do a PhD.
Currently my next big competition is the National Indoor Championships on 2nd December. I am so excited about it, because I get to shoot with some of the best archers in the UK. My goal for that day is to not come last. If I get incredibly lucky and have a good day, making it to the H2Hs is a possibility, but nevertheless, I will be happy if I get above 500 in a FITA 18.
Speaking about long term goals, my realistic dream is to be on the Estonian (or Finnish) national team and compete internationally. And the ultimate utopian goal would obviously be every archer’s dream – the Olympic Games. That might be more achievable in about a decade, so ask me again when I’m in my thirties and haven’t messed up my shoulders. I’m getting close to the Estonian B-team scores, but to get on the A-team, I would need an average of 576 indoors, and outdoors… I don’t even want to think about that. One day… one day…
Finally, the truth is, archery saved me. The desire to improve and know what I was capable of got me out of bed at 7am in the mornings when there was nothing else to motivate me. It gave me a purpose in my darkest times while I was living in limbo. There was a moment, after something terrible happened to me, when I wasn’t sure if I’d be capable of continuing with archery, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I’m now more determined than ever to reach every ridiculous goal I set for myself.
Originally published at https://paulakatriina.com/my-archery-journey/ on 25/09/2018.