In 2020, the National Field Archery Association introduced a Junior Essay Contest open to all archers aged 12 to 17 competing at the The Vegas Shoot.
At this year’s edition, two $1,000 scholarships were awarded to one young male and one young female. Zachary Maracine from Alhambra, California and Alexandra Mott from Texas, Nevada.
Both archers wrote a 500–1000-word essay with archery as a topic.
It was the last tournament of the season, and I was yet to shoot a 300. I stared long and hard at my target, trying to keep my mind from racing. It was the seventh end, and I hadn’t shot a four yet. The tips of my fingers tingled, and my knees were weary. I closed my eyes as I sat and tried to tune out the low whisper from the crowd, trying to put my head into a clear state of mind. I took a deep breath as bottom shooters were called to the line. The grip on my bow was firm.
Archery is my solo sport, the sport that has taught me patience. One that is heavily in one’s head, unlike my other sport, softball. Softball, unlike archery, is a high energy, team sport. What I love about archery is how it has helped mold me mentally into a well-rounded athlete.
I straddled the line and in a familiar stance. I faced my target, a slow breath through my nose. My neck was cold and painted in sweat beads. I had a good grip on my bow, my wrist was mush. I pulled back and made sure my setup was strong, struggling to keep my nerves out of thought. My heart was pounding out of my chest, I was sure the person next to me could hear it. Nonetheless, I held my pin in place and let my body do the rest of the work.
Seven years of practice and muscle memory had led me to this point, all I had to do was harness it. I couldn’t let my head be what dragged me down. I slowly pulled my elbow back and pushed my pin through the X, executing a perfect spot. The arrow tore through the air landing in the X. I took a sigh of relief and reminded myself that I was capable of more than I realized and just needed to calm down.
The top shooters began to finish up as I sat in my chair, my mind began to break loose. My breath was uneven and short as the anxiousness I was feeling began to spike. My head was racing, and my heart was pounding. As everyone returned from scoring, I could feel the panic rise in my chest. I walked quickly back to my seat and reached for my water. I knew to accomplish my goal that I had to pull it together right now before I moved up to twenty yards the following season. I had come this far pushing through all my failed attempts, all the long practices and lessons I had endured finally led me to this tournament, and I couldn’t let it go to waste now.
That’s the great thing about maturing, I realized that I’ve always had coaches who can teach me the fundamentals of the game and how to physically perform well, but the mental aspect was on me. There isn’t an instruction manual on how one can control the shaky hands or spinning head, that all comes with time and experience. Although I was sitting in a room full of people, I had never felt more alone. No one was going to be able to pull me out of this hole I had crawled into, that was up to me. I had to extinguish the burning that was in my chest and focus. Find the state of my mind of nothingness, and so I did. I fell into a haze as bottom shooters were called to the line. Sometimes it’s better to let go of the thing you are holding onto so dearly. And in this case, I mentally released the reins and fell into a rhythm of precision.
Before I knew it, it was the twelfth end. My haze faded as I could taste success. All it would take was one arrow, one out of sixty to rip away what I had worked so hard. I took a deep breath as I took a stance on the line for the last time as a cub shooter. It was a bittersweet moment, but nostalgia could wait. My first arrow was nearly perfect, giving me the confidence I needed. My second arrow was full of hesitation, and I had to let down. My knees locked underneath me, and I could feel my anxiousness slowly return, filling my body. I pulled back again and this time, the arrow went off smoothly.
I wanted to travel a few minutes into the future and claim my prize, but now I’m grateful that I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have developed my ability to handle high stress situations and I would have never seen that it’s not only about the prize at the end. My third and fourth arrow found the five. It had all come down to this very last arrow, I only needed one more. I pulled back and took a shaky breath, my arm shaking unstoppably. I rested my nose on my string and let my pin rest on the X. So many thoughts were racing through my mind. What if it were to all go down the drain?
My fear of failure wasn’t going to be the thing that pulled me down, this was my last chance to make myself proud and I was going to harness it. I let the arrow fly and slowly let down to reveal that I had done it. I felt the wait of a thousand bricks float away as I let out the breath I didn’t know I was still holding. I turned around and saw my dad sitting a few seats behind me, a smile on his face and a big thumbs up. That day I reached a milestone that still makes me smile today. At the end of the season, my first 300 experience was the first of a lifetime of archery milestones.