It’s more than chilly out; the gyrating wind cuts to my bones.
But inside the indoor range of the Archery Program at Bull Run, the smiles are warm and I feel welcomed.
Marc is well-known here, one of the regulars now. I feel more legit because of that, but also a little like the tail feathers of a peacock.
I meet Kat, who kindly puts up with me taking pictures of her. She’s practicing ignoring distractions, she says with resigned eyeroll and a rueful grin. I take that as permission to be as annoying as I want, and proceed to get right up behind her draw arm with my iPhone.
She shoots. She hits the gold. Apparently her focus improvement program is working.
Ruth Rowe, Olympic archer and head of the Archery Program at Bull Run, is a Presence in the room. She is In Charge, and totally aware of everything going on with every student there. She is — awesome. I’ll write more about her later.
The long, sparkling range is well lit, and quiet except for the “thwacks” of arrow on bale and the muffled murmurings of the four archers and Ruth. It’s not melodramatically quiet, the way golf is. I get the sense of a real, constantly operative mutual respect, a characteristic interwoven through the tapestry of archery everywhere.
In an ever-ruder world, I find inspiration in that.
There are comfy sofas in the back of the room, old but serviceable, probably donated, I think. A round meeting table with four folding chairs. The back wall is lined with prep tables, ample room for several archers to assemble equipment simultaneously. This entire back area is carpeted, giving it the feel of a cosy den. From what little I’ve learned of Ruth Rowe, I suspect this is a calculated choice — a combination of tiny psychological cues to relax. Relaxing is key, both physically and mentally.
Around the walls are several mirrors, interspersed between brag boards. The mirrors are not glass, but a reflective elastic material. Students practice with tubing there, observing their draw form, releasing their giant rubber bands without fear of damage to bow or mirror. It’s clever and clearly central to what is taught here. The brag boards are packed with pictures and scoresheets, anything that celebrates the successes, large and small, of Ruth’s archers. It feels like home.
My favorite brag board is the Spider Shooters, Ruth’s JOAD group. Killer logo, tons of kid pics with their stats, welcoming announcements for the new members. Stories of what some earlier students have gone on to do. Ruth is deeply and personally proud of each and every one of these kids. I want to think every JOAD coach is like that. It can’t pay much, so it has to be, to a large extent, a labor of love.
Watching Ruth work with her students is a delight. (Again, more about that another day.) Everyone is pleasant, even eager to share their experiences with me. They love it here.
Taking my pictures, trying to get artistic by shooting through the holes of Marc’s riser, I take my own emotional temperature. I love it here too. I want to come back, and I want to learn how to shoot a whole lot better than I do. It’s nearly an hour drive from my house to get here, but Kat drove more like 2 1/2 hours to get here today, and she does that every single week. There’s other places closer to her, but the Archery Program at Bull Run has something special.
We head back out into the frigid, grey day… but I know I’ll be back.
Even if it’s cold out.