A friend in USA archery public relations just posted, "it's official, archers are the new vampires" thanks to The Hunger Games film and book series. My own love affair, or well addiction, to archery didn't begin with Katniss though. It began when my daughter asked for archery equipment to either be in a renaissance faire or the Olympics. When the guy at the store suggested I take lessons with her, I agreed, like every good home school mom would. We learned together all day -- why not add archery to the mix?
Little did I know all the things I would learn from archery that didn't remotely involve the arrows or targets.
Bodies are Beautiful
As a child, every Easter would bring the dreaded Easter dress with short tight ruffled sleeves that bound and marked my too round arms. This problem continued into my adult years with cute t-shirts that left my arms looking like sausages. Archery, of course, made this worse. But suddenly I found that I didn't care. When I looked at pictures of myself shooting, I didn't cringe with regret the way I did with pictures from backyard barbeques or friend's weddings. I finally saw my body not as a traitor to my fashionable desires and vanities, but as a living, breathing, organism able to do all sorts of wonderful things. All of a sudden, my arms were tools, strong, capable tools that help me reach my goals.
Stand Up Straight
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all from my archery experience is the power of standing up straight. In archery, if you don't keep the same physical stance from shot to shot, you ruin your chances of shooting arrows that hit the mark. If you hunch over, you wind up pulling with your fingers and plucking the string. You may even strike the string against your arm, which can, even with an arm guard, hurt enough to make you curse like a truck driver. As in all things in life, if you stand up straight and keep your balance (however you decide to do it -- because like life, a good archer's form has some uniqueness tailored just to them) you will hit your mark more often than not.
Friends Are Friends No Matter Where You Stand
I took to archery fairly quickly and achieved some flash in the pan success early on. When my big win wasn't followed by any new great scores and new equipment brought more growing pains than successes, I worried that the relationships I formed on the range would be lost. Instead, I found the exact opposite. People that liked you for you, still liked you for you no matter if you are winning or losing. And those that don't, well, we won't talk about them because they aren't worth the conversation anyway. One woman I shoot with says, "I know that whatever I shoot today, my mother will still love me."
Shoot like You Aren't Afraid to Miss
My coach, Len Cardinale, is constantly saying, "arrange your shot, and then finish the best you can," and "if you are afraid to miss, you can never hit." It doesn't take a scholar to figure out how these adages apply to every day life. Constant worry yields nothing but ulcers -- you don't get results from anxiety but rather on following through on actions. Decide what you want, set your stance, and get through as best you can.
It's Okay to Win
We are often masters of self-sabotage -- once something starts to go well, we panic and retreat from the good things. Mr. Cardinale's words again ring through my mind when something starts to go my way, he says, "Don't be afraid when you start to do well. Remember, you worked for this." Too often I believed that didn't deserve good things, couldn't possibly have my dreams come true. But my coach's wise words help me to keep that negative thinking at bay, both on and off the range.
This same attitude of deserving to win helps fight the plague of "shoulds" as well. The "shoulds" as in I should work overtime, I should participate in the bake sale, I should clean the gutters, sometimes need to be kept in check. When you don't value yourself, it is easy to let these demands on your time overwhelm you. When this happens, you lose. Archery taught me that when planning my day, it is okay to set aside time to practice and travel. It is okay to budget money towards equipment I would like or tournaments I would like to attend. Archery taught me that it is okay to consider my own wants and needs in ways I never considered possible.
As many archers as there are in the world, there are lessons like these, personal lessons about growing taller, changing who you are, accepting who you are. These are just a fraction of the things I have learned and am still learning. While I may never make it to the winner's podium again, the practice of shooting enriches my life in so many ways that there is little that could ever make me want to lay down my arrows.
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