Mar 20th 2010, 23:50

Lifting the bow is the first challenge. It’s anchor shaped and almost as heavy. Coach Christopher Human instructs me to pull back the string until it touches my nose and fix the target through a pea-sized sight. All this is to be accomplished with Zen-like grace and focus. The resounding twang as I release the bow and the sound of the arrow hitting the target sends waves of gratification through me.

Archery is one of the main skills that allowed us to evolve from club-wielding unruliness. Standing in the middle of a barren field in Ottery, sun beating down, I reconnect with some ancient instinct. Clutching my lethal weapon, I’m a ‘don’t mess with me’ Artemis woman who never misses the mark.

One good shot is all it takes. When my third arrow‘ touches gold’, as hitting the yellow centre of the target iscalled, I find I can only look forward to a future where I mortgage my house and sell my kids to feed my archery habit. Springbok champion Karen Hultzer cautions that I’m falling into the trap of all beginner archers – obsessing about where the arrow is going rather than concentrating on where it is coming from. Focus on the right mental technique and the rest will take care of itself, she advises.

My thrill at planting one arrow in the centre of the target is diminished when Karen outlines the exacting requirements of professional archery. In competitions, archers shoot 144 arrows – 36 arrows from 30, 50, 60 and 70 ft distances. Only arrows that land in the innermost circle count as hits.

Karen’s rise in archery fame has been meteoric. She only took up the sport in 2007, at age 42. Competitive by nature, back injuries had barred her from most sports. She was miserable and a friend insisted that she try archery. From the moment she fired her first arrow, she knew she’d come home. Her next goal is to reach the Olympics in 2012.

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