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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Archery in Toronto - Who, what and where?

 Tucked away within E.T. Seton Park (located next to the Ontario Science Centre in North York) is one of Canada's only two public archery ranges: The Toronto Public Archery Range. There, you will find a community of Olympic-calibre archers, competitors-in-training, and newcomers.

On a July evening, Vanessa Lee releases an arrow from her bow and watches it fly through the air like a missile towards the butt (target) 70 metres away. This is one of 350 arrows she will shoot this day. Currently Canada's #2 ranked female archer, Lee, 23, is training seven hours daily, with a hawk eye focus on competing in the 2016 Olympics.

"I love the feeling of shooting and that instant you shoot an arrow and know it's a perfect 10. Sports psychologists call that the flow and there's no other feeling like that," says Lee.

She took up archery in 2004, after being dazzled by Korean archer Park Sung-Hyun, who won Gold with her team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In the eight years since Lee took up archery, she has competed in countries like China, Mexico, and Italy. "I love the people you get to meet. The friends that you make are amazing," she says.

While archery is a bigger sport internationally, it is underground in Toronto. But it has recently received a boost from pop culture, thanks to movies like The Hunger Games, Brave and The Avengers, which all feature kickass archer characters.

One of Canada's star archers, Crispin Duenas, 26, says the pop influence is helping draw a younger demographic to the sport. "My coach has had an influx of young teens, mainly girls, who want to learn archery after seeing Hunger Games and Brave," he says via email from London, England, where he is representing Canada on the Olympics archery team. "This increases our chances of having more and better archers."

While E.T. Seton Park is a regular spot for top-tier archers like Duenas, it is also open to those looking to just shoot for fun.

At the 18-metre targets, Tara Vaughan and three friends begin their weekly evening shooting outing; their homemade target on the butt. To their right, two young boys shoot at their homemade target: a picture of a zombie.

"When you say you're an archer, you just sound so bad ass," says Vaughan, 35, who started shooting at the range two years ago, after taking a class at Casa Loma with respected instructor and archer Shawn Adams.

Vaughan loves the range's diverse community, which includes barebow shooters - people who actually hunt - who bring homemade bows to target shoot during weekend mornings. "They're a real do-it yourself culture; people who are very excited to have made their own bows and arrows," she says.
Wildlife may be spotted too. Range regular Hamilton Nguyen, 21, says that "sometimes, eagles come down here and they'd sit on top of our targets, looking for prey. One year, we had a baby deer that came along." Rest assured: animals are not shot at.

For those looking to get into the sport, archers suggest taking a class first, because they provide the equipment. Once you get a feel for it, you can join a club. The Ontario Association of Archers' website has a great list of clubs.

Popular clubs include the Toronto-based Bullseye Buccaneers, run by Joan McDonald, the head coach of the Canadian Olympic archery team. For those who can travel, the Peel Archery Club and the Archers of Caledon are also recommended.

Interestingly enough, Toronto doesn't have good equipment stores, according to archers like Nguyen and Lee. Instead, they suggest The Bow Shop in Kitchener and Archer's Nook in London, Ontario.

"It's best to drive there to try out the equipment," says Nguyen. "Archery is a very personal sport and everything has to be based on how you feel about the bow. There's no point in investing a lot of money on something that doesn't work for you."

Starter bows cost $150 to $200. Other key equipment include: arrows; the arm-guard to protect the bow string from hitting your arm; and the finger tab, which protects your fingers from getting bloodied and blistered. Overall expect to pay about $350 if you want to get into archery.

But maybe you don't want to invest all that cash in equipment until you've determined whether you actually like the sport. In which case you're in luck, there are a variety of people who offer archery lessons in Toronto, and they provide all the equipment.

As Toronto has a four-season climate, indoor clubs are essential for practitioners. One of these clubs is the Hart House Archery Club at the University of Toronto.

"A lot of clubs don't have a dedicated space. Most of the spaces are rented out, like church basements or school gyms. Hart House is one of the few clubs in Toronto that has a dedicated space," says member Lina Sederavicius, 27.

Running from September to April, the Club is primarily a social club. Each year, they have a Halloween fun shoot, where members are encouraged to dress in costume and shoot at "wicked targets", like pumpkins that hang from the ceiling.

Sederavicius, who took up archery at 16, because she loved Disney's Robin Hood as a child, also sees the pop culture boost of archery as a positive thing. "I know (one club) that has hosted events just for Hunger Games fans and they've had a great response."

And if zombies were to ever crossover from pop into reality, would the bow and arrow be Sederavicius' ideal weapon? It depends, she says. "If I were perched up on a roof, then a bow and arrow would be great. But if a zombie were to come up and surprise me from behind, then I am totally screwed."

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