11th grader, Diane Kim, was one of this year’s National Field Archery Association Junior Essay Contest winners. The contest is open to all archers aged 12 to 17 who compete at the Vegas Shoot.
Kim’s self-reflective essay called titled “What if I hit someone accidentally?” was selected by an independent panel of experts and won her a $1,000 scholarship.
Archery is full of what ifs. The first “what if'' I encountered in fifth grade was the fear that my arrow on the plastic bow would somehow end up missing the target and swerving to hit a person (there wasn’t even anyone nearby). My heartbeat pounded so fiercely inside me I swore even my instructor could hear it. I anxiously tugged on the string placed complacent on my nose, and let go. The rush I felt when the arrow hit the target is a feeling I’ll never be able to replace.
A girl that only ever read about bows and arrows in mythical Greek stories was somehow holding a plastic bow and a rental quiver full of arrows, feeling eager to take her next shot. It didn’t seem like much, but it was the start of the sport I have fallen in love with for seven years of my life.
A year later, entering middle school as a wide eyed twelve year old, I quickly became overwhelmed with the new IB program I was entering, and tried to get in as much practice as I could. At this point, I had been practicing archery for two years, and became obsessed with my very own dark blue bow. Twice a week, my mother would drive my brother and I to Stockton, an hour away, to my Coach’s practice range. I would take in every single pointer and piece of advice and practice until I got it right. I’d burden myself with frustration every time my arrow failed to hit the gold, and wondered what I wasn’t doing right.
I spent my summers outside in the hundred degree heat, shooting as many arrows I could, while all the other archery campers would be inside taking a break. I pushed myself to a maximum until I burnt out.
“What if I’m not good enough?”
As I counted my success by the amount of golds I hit, I soon became flooded by the fear of simply being unskilled.
After every practice, my arm would be purple, on the verge of bleeding, and always swollen. The string would hit my arm every time I released the arrow, diminishing any glimpse of confidence I may have had. I followed every single step my coach advised me, yet nothing seemed to work.
Instead, I buried myself in school work, craving the validation I didn’t get in archery. I started picking up my bow throughout the week less, and became preoccupied with other activities I kept myself busy with.
Not wanting to give up the passion I had for archery, my mother desperately found a coach in San Jose that she heard was incredible. Wary due to my past experience, I nagged and complained the entire two hour drive there. In the dark of night, I met my new coach for the very first time. In the matter of minutes, she somehow taught me how to avoid hitting my arm when I shot. The pain I used to feel after every shot I took disappeared, and I suddenly became increasingly confident. Within one practice together, my new coach took away the problem I’ve dealt with for three years.
Flash forward, it was my freshman year in high school. The age of a pandemic. As everyone was quarantined, I facetimed my coach in my backyard, and set up a target outdoors to practice. While the world shut down, my love for archery never did.
A smile hidden by the blue mask over my face, I was eager to return to competitions when the pandemic settled down in 2021. My new coach and I finally got to work together more in person. With every lesson, I felt myself improving. All the “what ifs” I felt about feeling insufficient were beginning to fade.
“What if I could help others?”
Now, as a 17 year old junior, I reflect on my journey of archery. I remember the scared little girl I was when I began shooting, and how much I’ve grown alongside archery. Seeking to create the same feeling and growth for others, I underwent training and got a coach certificate through UC Berkeley’s archery facility and program.
Now, I get to serve as an assistant coach and uplift young archers who may struggle with confidence and have the same amount of negative “what ifs” as I first did.
The first young archer I had the opportunity to help was a little boy named Theo. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Theo had a critical medical condition that made him weak and prone to illness. I gave Theo a few pointers, and made him believe in himself more, by uplifting him with positive comments. With a little bit of encouragement, Theo’s performance improved and he was noticeably more joyful. Even his mother noticed that he felt happier and more confident, and thanked me for believing in him. At that moment, I fell in love with coaching and using my experience to help others.
While I still compete, I now continue to be an assistant coach in a local, state, national, and soon at an international level, and am able to spread my love for archery by encouraging young archers to believe their very own potential that they already have in them.
As I’ve grown alongside archery for seven years, I’ve learned that archery is a mental game. You have to trust yourself, what you know, and your instincts; even when it feels impossible. With a single distraction or negative thought, your whole shot could be ruined. As I teach younger archers, I realized that I’ve always had it in me, I just had to start believing in myself. The ten year old version of myself that overthought every single shot she took would be beaming with joy by how easygoing and comfortable I have grown to become. The lingering what ifs that once clouded my brain are now turned to the question “what now?”