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Shot in the dark

Beth Bragg
Photos by MARC LESTER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS

Ten-year-old Taylor Thompson's week-long summer camp included a night of archery at Kincaid Park, an occasion that reminded the Palmer girl of a favorite scene from the movie "Brave."

"The girl in there shoots targets too, but she does it on a galloping horse," said an obviously awestruck Thompson.

No less impressive were the feats performed Tuesday by Thompson and her fellow campers, a group of blind and visually impaired kids taking part in Camp Abilities Alaska.

Taking aim at targets 10 yards away, archers beamed upon hearing the satisfying "thud" that told them their arrow had found its mark. Many hit targets with consistency, including Thompson, who shot three of her five arrows into a target 10 yards away.

The camp, sponsored by Lions Club 49A, is exposing participants to a wide range of activities this week -- things like hiking, swimming and tandem bicycling.

The trip to Kincaid, where members of Northwest Archers Association set up a range inside the wax bunker, gave the kids a chance to try a sport that, thanks to movies like "Brave" and "The Hunger Games," is among the hottest in the country.

For those who are blind or visually impaired, it can also be on the most challenging sports, because it is almost entirely visual, said camp counselor Frankie Ann Macille of Mystic, Conn.

"The whole point of the sport is visual," said Macille, who is legally blind and tried archery for the first time early this week during staff training. "It revolves around visual dynamics. Someone who's blind isn't supposed to do it.

"As soon as you hear that thud, it's like, 'Yes! I did it!' ''

New Energy

Lance Warnick, president of Northwest Archers, said the history of archery is summarized perfectly in the sport's motto: "The sport of man since time began."

"Since time began," he said, "man has been shooting with bows and arrows. That's how far back it goes."

Yet there's new blood and new energy -- and lots of it -- infusing the sport right now.

The "Archery 101" courses offered for free most Saturdays during the summer at Kincaid Park are drawing about 50 people each week, Warnick said -- up from about 30 last year.

That growth reflect a national near-obsession with the sport -- a love affair with a bow-bearing Cupid, provided your idea of Cupid looks like the red-headed heroine of "Brave" or Jennifer Lawrence of "The Hunger Games."

When "The Hunger Games" opened in March, USA Archery -- the sport's national governing body -- saw a 30 percent increase in web traffic, according to reports by the Associated Press and various newspapers. The organization's Twitter followers quadrupled and its Facebook fans tripled.

More fans were born when "Brave" came out last month, and the sport will get another bump soon when the Summer Olympics begin. Among the members of the U.S. team who will compete in London is four-time Olympian Khatuna Lorig, who gave archery lessons to Lawrence in preparation for "The Hunger Games."

girls and women

Many of those new to the sport, at both the national and local level, are girls and women.

Tim Thomas, who does hunter education for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, said 100 schools in Alaska participate in the National Archery in the Schools Program. When the program started six years ago, 2 to 3 percent of participants were girls. Today, he said, 20 percent are.

But kids in general, not just girls, are crazy about bows and arrows these days, he said. At a recent Fish & Game fishing event for kids, "all the kids there told us about 'Brave' and 'The Hunger Games.' All two thousand of them," Thomas said.

One of archery's appeals is it doesn't matter if you are young or old, male or female, big or small. The world's top archers, Warnick noted, are two women from Korea.

"It's a real equalizer," he said. "You can be four-feet-nothing and weigh 65 pounds and outshoot the biggest football player on the team."

'Like a joystick'

Paul Tandy, blind since his premature birth almost 16 years ago, relies on his sense of touch as a wrestler for West High. When he took his turn at the archery range Tuesday, he relied on the touch of a "target seeker" standing behind him.

"My coach directs me with my own hand or with his words," said Tandy, who turns 16 on Saturday.

The target seekers, who are either Camp Abilities counselors or Northwest Archers members, assist by either telling archers how to adjust their aim, or by lightly touching their shooting arm in the direction they should adjust -- up or down, left or right -- "like a joy stick," Warnick said.

Midway through Tuesday's session, balloons were tacked onto the targets, changing the sound of thuds to the sound of pops when an arrow found a target. Every pop prompted cheers and smiles.

Shooting at the far end of a row of 10 stations, Tandy was a portrait of concentration as he placed the shaft of an arrow onto his bow and methodically came to the draw position. He remained still and quiet as his seeker helped him adjust his aim, and then he fired the arrow into the middle of a target he couldn't see.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

Arch Madness Kincaid Park's outdoor range includes a practice range open to the public with targets ranging from 10 to 80 yards. It also includes two 14-target field ranges and a 14-target bag range that are open to members of the Northwest Archers Association (membership information at northwestarchers.com). Other ranges in Anchorage: • Full Curl Archery, 12501 Old Seward Highway (344-2697 or fullcurlarchery.com) • Black Sheep Bowman, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (753-1855 or blacksheeparchery.com; club is open to civilians). • Rabbit Creek Shooting Park, 15222 New Seward Highway (345-7831 or adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=huntered.ranges • Archery 101: Free beginners classes July 14, July 28 and Aug. 4 at the Kincaid outdoor range, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Call the Kincaid chalet at 343-6397 to sign up. • Tuesday target shoot: 6 p.m. at Kincaid outdoor range; $5 (free for kids). • State Field Archery Tournament: July 21-22, Kincaid Park.

Photos: Learning archery
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News