The National Field Archery Association introduced a Junior Essay Contest open to all archers aged 12 to 17 who competed at the 54th edition of The Vegas Shoot in February 2020.
The prize was a scholarship towards higher education and over 100 archers took part. The topic of the essays was simply archery.
Alli Dixson and Matthew Ebner, both from Oregon, were selected as winners by an independent panel.
“It’s really good to know that I’ll have more opportunities later on thanks to something I’m doing now. It just helps me feel secure that I can keep doing this in the future,” said Alli.
“I think giving scholarships like this to kids really encourage them to continue things they love and that they can be successful in things. Even if they maybe don’t shoot the best, they can write an essay about why they do it and that can really help them in other aspects.”
The addition of the Junior Essay Contest was part of an expansion of the large scholarship program offered at The Vegas Shoot. In 2020, the scholarship fund totaled $40,000.
Here is Alli Dixson’s winning essay in full:
In today's society, one in five teens suffer from mental illness. Two of the most common being depression and anxiety. Both of which I have experienced. These are hard to understand if you do not experience them yourself. But oftentimes I find myself feeling stressed and anxious for no apparent reason. Things that would usually bring me joy are pointless. In these times I have found that one thing can help to put me in a better state of mind. That thing is archery.
I have been shooting a bow for 14 years and it has always been a passion. But recently it has become more for me. Shooting helps me to clear my mind and sort through my thoughts. It helps me to organize myself and my priorities. It helps me to feel as if I am in control of my life. Because I know when I pull back my bow, I am in power. It is my muscles that hold me steady, my finger that will release the power from my limbs to the string and into that arrow which will find its way into the bale. I control every aspect of each shot. I am unshakable. And over and over I can repeat these same actions, calming my mind. Showing myself that I am calm, strong, and in control.
I find myself reveling in the mental game that is intertwined with archery. Aside from the physical aspect, archery is all mental. Simply allowing yourself to make that perfect shot, over and over. Challenging yourself to find a groove and stay in it, completely ignore a small mistake. Because those can end you.
You must brush over your errors and move on. This is something that I wish I could do in my everyday life, as I struggle with small imperfections. This is yet another aspect of archery which truly shows itself in my day to day life.
I find that in moments of pressure while shooting, times when most people would stress, I am calm and almost invigorated. When I approach the line for a shoot-up, heart pounding in my chest, my mind is clear and at peace. Archery hunting is another place I find my peace that is not very common for female competitive archers especially. I have had countless close encounters with many animals, most commonly the Rosevelt Elk. I often shiver at the thought of them because just the idea of hearing their bugle screaming out, seeing brush tremor as they run in, has my heart pounding. When a bull is in front of me, there is nothing else on my mind, nothing else in the world. All that matters is me, this bull and my arrow. There are none of my usual anxious thoughts. No worry as to what will happen next. Because I know what happens next, I am doing what I love. I am where I belong.
Throughout my life, archery has been a way of spending time with my family. But it has also been a way for me to come into myself and grow as a person. Through archery, I have been able to experience things I never would have imagined. I have learned to be confident even in new and uncomfortable situations and this has bled through into my everyday life. I have broken records and proved to myself and others that being a girl doesn't put you at any disadvantage at all. As long as you work hard to be successful at what you love you can accomplish a lot.
All in all, archery has been a way for me to bond with my family, grow as a person, and feel comfortable with myself. It is my way of proving that I am not just a girl. I am not just some depressed teenage statistic.
I am a girl with a bow, and I am strong.