HAYDEN — Elizabeth Lynch once heard an elite archer say that the thing separating Olympic archers from your average everyday shooter was that “the Olympians have no pulse.”
“They’re a certain personality type,” Lynch added. “They can put themselves in that mindset and just go at it.”
Lynch’s own transition toward pulselessness is going pretty well — and she’s not the only one.
The 2016 Jennings County graduate and her father, Lonnie, have started up the Sycamore Grove archery club, operating out of the indoor range they built on their property a couple of years ago.
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The club grew out of area shooters seeking the assistance of Lonnie Lynch, who had earned respect locally while helping with the archery program at Jennings County Middle School.
Lonnie’s first take-home project was Emily Montgomery.
“I had Elizabeth,” he said, “and then I took on Emily just to see if we could teach someone all of the same methods and stuff, and she really took off.”
That’s an understatement. Montgomery, a 14-year-old who just finished middle school, has won a pair of National Field Archery Association indoor national championships in the female youth barebow division, claiming her second this past March in Louisville.
Elizabeth Lynch has won three NFAA national titles and also took first at the International Field Archery Association’s indoor world championships in 2013. She also finished sixth in her division this year at The Vegas Shoot, arguably the most prestigious indoor competition in the world.
The success of that pair is now luring others in. Elaina Wahlman, Macie Voss and Jadyn Ruble have all come on board at Sycamore Grove in recent months with the hope that they can experience similar success.
Much like golf, there are some barriers to entry with archery in the form of up-front costs. The shooting programs at Jennings County and other area schools, run through the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), cost a little over $100 for each participant — but the cost to pursue the sport independently, Lonnie Lynch says, is quite a bit higher.
“It kind of depends on what level you want to start at,” he said. “You’re talking probably five or six hundred dollars for equipment to get started.”
On top of that basic equipment, tournament entry fees are usually about $30 to $50 per event. And if you’re looking to move up to the higher-end equipment that the Olympic-caliber archers use — as Elizabeth Lynch has — then the cost can get up into the thousands.
In other words, if you’re truly going to pursue archery, you’d better be pretty serious about it.
It’s hard to excel in the sport if you’re not serious anyway, because so much is determined by the mental side of things. Lots of people have a good eye and all of the other physical tools, but just as important is the ability to control your breathing and keep a steady hand.
In addition, a shooter has to have a short memory — or the effects of a poor shot can snowball and completely ruin a round.
“You’ve just got to focus on the method and going through the steps and not worry about that one,” Elizabeth Lynch said, “because that one’s already in the target. You can’t do anything (about it). And that’s what a lot of people are bad at — they let it affect them and it ruins their whole entire round.”
“You can’t be too nervous,” Montgomery echoed. “You have to man up and kind of be like, ‘It’s okay if I shoot a bad arrow.’ You’ve just got to power through it.”
Physically, it’s a matter of repetition — the ability to do the exact same thing every time. The focus required to do that is one of the big things that drew Elizabeth Lynch to archery in the first place, and it’s why Lonnie Lynch drills his girls on routine over and over and over.
When that muscle memory gets built up, the actual motion becomes completely automatic.
Montgomery has become so well-drilled that any deviation from her routine forces her to hit the reset button.
“I can feel — when I pull my arrow and I knock it, if I don’t feel like I knocked it right, I won’t shoot that arrow,” she explained. “I’ll redo it again, because I don’t want to take the chance of not shooting a good arrow if I don’t feel that it’s right.”
So far, most of her arrows have been.
The next step
Both Elizabeth Lynch and Montgomery have excelled in indoor competition, but neither has yet made the leap to shooting outdoors, where many new variables — wind, rain, added distance — can play havoc with a shot.
Shooting outdoors, of course, is the pathway to a spot in the Olympics, but there are many adjustments to be made. The distance may be the greatest — at NFAA indoor competitions, archers shoot from 20 yards, while the distance at the Olympics is 70 meters.
Elizabeth Lynch isn’t thinking that far ahead yet.
“I need to get more strength and be able to put more weight on my build to get the distance in for Olympics,” she said.
Montgomery, meanwhile, knows that she also has a long way to go — but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t started to dream big.
Her older brothers, who helped steer Montgomery toward archery when she was younger, are dreaming too.
“They just think it’s going to be cool if they have a sister in the Olympics if I keep trying at this,” Montgomery said.
According to the NASP Indiana website, the following area schools offer archery programs:
Columbus East High School
Columbus North High School
Jennings County High School
Jennings County Middle School
Brush Creek Elementary School
Graham Creek Elementary School
Hayden Elementary School
North Vernon Elementary School
Sand Creek Elementary School
Scipio Elementary School
Anyone interested in training with the Sycamore Grove archery club can contact Lonnie Lynch at 812-371-3550.