Archery is one of the few sports where an eight-year- old girl can compete with her 80-year-old grandfather on equal terms. Michael Peart has been shooting arrows for more than 15 years and has won many European and International accolades. Archery novice Valerie McBride-Munro is shown how it’s done.
Recently I was on holiday in a resort by the Red Sea, and I wimped out of scuba-diving training. Although the sun shone and the sky was blue, the biting wind made it too cold to spend time hanging around the swimming pool; so I went looking for an alternative, and I found the archery range. My technique was vaguely okay, my success was random. But as the instructor was Italian, I suppose some of it got lost in translation. To cut to the chase, I got hooked.
So this meeting with Michael Peart was going to be fascinating. Here was my chance as a novice to pick one of the best archery brains in the country. And I suppose for him it could be a reminder of how far he has come in his career.
It was a strange place to meet an Olympic hopeful – in the middle of a field, somewhere on the outskirts of Ipswich. Called ‘Bob’s Meadow’, this is the place where Michael Peart shoots hundreds of arrows, every day of the year, and in all weathers. All he has for company is his top-of-the range recurve bow, a quiver full of super-lightweight carbon arrows, and a target, 70 meters in the distance. His punishing schedule involves spending three hours in the morning, and a further three later in the day, when, if he’s lucky, he could be joined by other shooting friends. It is a lonely haul to the top.
Hitting the target
1. Face along the shooting line and place a foot on either side of it, shoulder-width apart. Your toes should be pointing roughly 90 degrees away from the target. Wear shoes with a stable flat sole, as some trainers might tend to make you wobble a bit. Finger tabs can be a simple shaped layer of leather that is anchored to your middle finger. Left is Michael’s, which has added metal protection. He uses the edge as a guide against his chin when he draws back the string.
2. Keep your body upright, and spend a few moments looking straight ahead, focusing on the target. Success in archery is almost as much about what is going on in your head as what you do with your body. Concentration is the key. With the bow pointing towards the ground, fix the notch at the end of the arrow (the nock) designed to fit around the bowstring, so that two of the arrow flights (or fletch) are flush against the bow.
3. Raise the bow up to prepare to shoot. Using your dominant eye, line up the target with the bow’s sight. Keep your head very still. Draw back the string so that the edge of your index finger guard fits snugly under your chin – the string will touch the center of your nose. It is important that each time that you shoot you have these fixed reference points. Michael adopts a really mean and moody look – his way of concentrating. In Michael’s case, he is pulling back the equivalent of 50lbs in weight. Beginners’ bows
4. Keep a relaxed grip on the bow – it is a common fault to try to hold it so tightly that your knuckles turn white. On releasing the string, it should be just as if you are allowing a carrier bag to slip out of your fingers. Remember to continue to hold your body position until the arrow has hit the target. It could be traveling at 200 feet per second!