A newcomer to archery, 10-year-old Liam Smith set a goal last fall to compete in the 6th
annual World Dwarf Games in Lansing.
The Rockford youth now holds two gold medals in 9-meter and 18-meter recurve events after winning in the open category (ages 16 to 34) at the international competition Aug. 3-10 at Michigan State University.
Smith exemplifies the possibilities of the sport, proving one can excel regardless of age, gender, size, or experience.
"I have been practicing a lot," says Liam. "I shot my best, had a fun time, and did really well."
Whether for hunting, recreation, or competition, archery enthusiasts say it's a cool, fun, safe sport that will hook you rather quickly. The ancient activity, used in primitive times for hunting and warfare, has gained newfound popularity thanks to movies like The Hunger Games
and the television show "Revolution."
It's always had a draw in Michigan due to the number of bow hunters in the state, and novice and competitive archers alike will have a new place to practice and compete when the West Michigan Archery Center opens this winter on 10 Mile Road near Rockford.
"It only takes shooting a bow once and shooting the gold ring," says Jeff DeRegnaucourt, a certified community coach, Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) instructor, and National Archery in the Schools instructor trainer. "There is something intrinsic about it, about pulling the bow back, watching the arrow fly through the air, and hitting the gold target."
DeRegnaucourt, fascinated by Robin Hood as a youngster, took up archery at age 10 and became an instructor after years of using the wrong equipment. A left-handed DeRegnaucourt started out shooting a right-handed bow. Someone told him to switch to a left-handed bow, which he used until he found out he is right-eye dominant.
"I should have been shooting right-handed all along," he said. "Growing up, I had no mentors to teach me how to do things right. I wanted to be in a position to help those who want to shoot a bow and arrow right the first time."
One of the most important aspects of archery is determining eye dominance. Often, a person may be right-handed, but testing reveals left-eye dominance, or vice versa.
DeRegnaucourt says the Rockford area has an active group of archers and continues to produce some young archers in the JOAD program who compete and win at the national level.
A six-week Introduction to Archery course he teaches through Rockford Adult Community Education fills up fast and usually has a waiting list. Rockford Sportsman's Club hosts leagues and tournaments at the club on Northland Drive. It's also where the JOAD archers hold practice -- at least for now.
The nonprofit West Michigan Archery Center will be an indoor-outdoor facility open to the public, offering instruction and competitive tournaments as well as community outreach and education programs. It will serve youth in JOAD and National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) and be the site of the introductory course.
"It's going to be a community-driven archery center," says DeRegnaucourt, also board VP. "We want to offer therapy programs, senior citizens days, and programs for at-risk youth and single parent households."
Another Rockford JOAD archer, Mikayla Venoms, took his Introduction to Archery course several times to learn the fundamentals. Now 14, she is a five-time Grand National Champion and set seven national records in her young archery career.
"It's just so much fun," she says. "Once you pick up your first bow, you will never want to put it down."
In similar fashion, Liam Smith took to archery about a year ago after trying it at YMCA and Cub Scout camps, says his dad, Aric Smith. He asked to join a club, so they found the Rockford JOAD program and weekly Saturday practices turned into practicing several times a week.
"It's fun to shoot arrows," says Liam. "It's challenging. You always want to improve your score. And it's fun to meet new friends and work with great coaches."
His proud father says Liam is highly motivated and worked really hard to do well at the World Dwarf Games. He also credits the instructors at Rockford's JOAD club for teaching him the fundamentals.
"It's been an incredible experience as a parent to watch your child set a goal and achieve it," Aric says. "And he's had fun doing it and he's brought the family into it. The rest of us of have gotten involved."
One of the safest sports behind Ping Pong and Badminton, according to the National Safety Council, archery is a great family activity. You can do it in your backyard or join a club. DeRegnaucourt recommends newbies take an introductory class to learn the basics and decide if they want to buy equipment.
"I can take people who have never shot before and have them shooting well in a week or less," he says. "You get out of it what you put into it."
Most introductory classes and the JOAD program provide beginning equipment. The JOAD club, with dues of $5 per week, is open to any youth archer ages 10 to 20 and they can compete in different age divisions as well as tournaments.
Entry-level equipment costs $150 to $300 and goes up from there. Like any sport, you can spend a lot for top-quality equipment and accessories, DeRegnaucourt says.
"Form comes first before they upgrade," he says. "The equipment doesn't make the archer. The archer makes the archer."
But unlike shooting a weapon, you don't go through a bunch of ammunition. Archers can walk up to five miles during a competition and also a fair amount during practice while retrieving arrows. Plus, there is a social component.
"I really like how you get to meet new people every time you go to a tournament," Venoms says.
There's a lot more to it than just standing at a line and firing off an arrow at a target. Archery builds upper body, lower back, leg, and core strength. It improves balance and coordination and requires mental clarity and concentration.
Other skills that can be applied to life include learning to follow rules and do math to keep score. It also involves some biomechanics and physics, says Aric Smith, who has become a Level I instructor to help with Liam's training and mentor other youth.
One other benefit: Archery is an individual sport, so each archer can set individual goals. It's up to him or her to achieve them.
"There's a certain amount of satisfaction involved in perfecting a skill and placing an arrow where you want it," says Smith. "Anybody can pick up a bow and arrow and benefit from it. It's an activity that needs to be rediscovered. It's a lot of fun."
It also teaches patience, persistence and problem-solving skills and has been shown to help people with attention deficit disorder, DeRegnaucourt says. You have to remain perfectly still and deal with the elements, noise, and other distractions.
"That's what archery teaches you, to calm down and focus," he says. "You have to stay within yourself. It's also great for stress relief. You can shoot 50 or 60 arrows and be so much calmer.
“It tests one's mettle on being able to handle a problem. You're going to have the crash and burns. Archery helps you learn how to deal with that."
Fifty years later, DeRegnaucourt is still dedicated to the sport. When his shoulders gave out, he had both shoulders replaced so he could keep doing the activity he loves.
"It's just cool," he says. "Anyone who takes up the sport will understand that."
For more information, visit rockfordarchery.org
. The next Introduction to Archery course, open to all ages, begins in September. To register, call (616) 863-6322.
Marla R. Miller is a freelance writer who enjoys meeting cool people and telling their stories. Her interests include arts, entertainment, entrepreneurs, food and travel, innovating organizations and the inspiring work of nonprofits. An award-winning features writer and former newspaper reporter, she is not putting her master's degree to use, but finally feels happy. Check out her website: marlarmiller.com
Photography by Adam Bird