Sports

Hunger Games gives a boost to Maple Ridge Archery Club

Essic Dhesi, 13, takes aim at his target during an archery practice at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre on Thursday. - Colleen Flanagan
Essic Dhesi, 13, takes aim at his target during an archery practice at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre on Thursday.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan

The Hunger Games movies are turning young people on to a new, old sport.

Archery is enjoying an upswing across North America, and the Maple Ridge club has seen a surge in numbers.

In the gym at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre on archery night, one whole side of the gym is lined with people drawing bows, the other with targets.

Some arrows go straight to the heart of the bullseyes, and some hit the Kevlar curtain behind the targets.

The club now has 77 members, which is about double the total in recent years, and there’s a waiting list for more to join.

The club recently offered an introduction to archery shooting. That made accommodation for 20 people, but 47 signed up.

“We had mostly adults. Now we have about half adults and half kids,” said coach Laura Curwen. “The Hunger Games and Brave – those movies have really increased our numbers.

Catching Fire, the second movie in the Hunger Games trilogy, opened in Canadian theatres on Friday.

“It renews the interest, and it’s a great family sport,” Curwen added.

Junior archers start indoors in October, and by the time the outdoor season begins in the fall, they are ready for the challenges of longer distances, wind and rain.

Nine years old is the youngest they will take an archer.

There is some club equipment for people to try the sport, but eventually club members get their own bow, arrows and accessories. It can range from $400 to $1,000, but Curwen notes that a lot of the gear will last a lifetime.

There are many types from simple longbows to recurves and compound bows that have pulleys top and bottom, and long rods out the front as stabilizers.

Some members are hunters, some are recreational shooters, and others are competitors.

From the latter group, Mariessa Pinto is hoping to qualify for the 2015 Canada Winter Games. She’s 15, and a year ago got serious about competitive archery.

Pinto enjoys the intense focus of the sport – those Zen moments where she will put everything out of her mind except for the shot.

And what has her hooked is those perfect shots – like when a baseball player smacks a ball on the sweet spot of the bat, or a golfer drives a shot that jumps off the club and soars.

“For me, my good shot is motivation, and you feel it as soon as you let it go,” she said. “I want every shot to be like that. And the more I feel it, I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

“It’s nice seeing your arrows in the gold all the time, too.”

She shoots two or three nights a week, and does a 10-week conditioning program to get in shape for archery.

“It gets hard. A lot of people give up,” she said.

Pinto likes that her sport is suddenly ‘cool.’ When she enters an event, there is always lots of competition.

“The movies have had a huge impact,” she said.

And she gets it: “I’ve been a Hunger Games fan since the first book came out.”

The Maple Ridge Club has a history dating back to 1955, and a member, the late Marge Saunders, helped to develop the Junior Olympian Program that is used today. With it, archers aim to reach rising scoring goals, and advance to the next level. They get a score for each ring they hit on a target, and the perfect score is 300 – which is 30 arrows into a small ring, just slightly larger than a loonie.

Murray Peacock is one of the club’s best shooters. Inspired by a brother who would make his own bows for hunting, he joined the club in 1981. His best result was a second-place finish at the Championship of the Americas in 2008, where he competed against world record holders.

“You have to work at it – there’s no such thing as a natural,” he said.

“There’s no instant gratification like with a video game. Striving for perfection – that’s what it is.”

He said a good archer is calm, focussed and dedicated. Strength is also necessary. Shooting 60 arrows in practice is a good arm workout.

Archery clubs from Toronto to Calgary are also reporting big jumps in membership.

“We have seen an increase in memberships country-wide,” said Scott Ogilvie, the executive director of Archery Canada, but added the exact impact is not yet known. His is a comparatively small sports organization, with approximately 7,500 members, and he said clubs struggle to get everyone who wants to shoot in front of a target.

“It’s challenging to keep up with the demand in archery,” he said.

“It’s a good thing for archery in Canada, and down the road it bodes well for national championships, and how Canada performs at the international level.”

In the U.S., archery’s membership has doubled in two years. Denis Parker, the CEO of USA Archery, and a three-time Olympian, sees it as a positive.

“But what is so amazing with Hunger Games is that you have this character, Katniss, who is confident and beautiful, and the way she uses the bow is an extension of that. That is what really resonates and makes people want to try this,” she said in an interview earlier this year.

It’s not the first time movie fans have been inspired to take up a sport. The Harry Potter books and movies resulted in the formation of the International Quidditch Association.

Lacking flying brooms, however, maybe some of the players around the world are taking up the bow.

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