Between Bowling and Ping Pong

The pounding beat of an old rock song moved through the room, raising my adrenaline like I was about to go to war. I wasn’t in a dangerous situation but my brain couldn’t convince the rest of my nerves otherwise . I was sure I would accidently injure someone, but that nervous expression only seemed to amuse the instructor.

“Archery is one of the safest sports,” said the 20-something, thin-framed brunette, in a voice high and melodic like the Valley kids in Mean Girls or Clueless. She raised her right hand high above her head. “This is where football and soccer are.” She waved her hand. “And down here,” she said, dropping her left hand, “is bowling.” In terms of safety, archery was just below bowling, she added. “And ping pong is below that.”

“So,” she smirked, “if you want to do something safer than archery, play ping pong.”

Below bowling? That was not the impression I got when I first really noticed the bows inside a hunting store in Texas, as they hung next to rows of guns and rifles and animal decoys with X’s marked on them. I wanted to dare the perky instructor to tell any of the thick, bushy-faced men in camo-gear and bright orange caps I found along those aisles that they’re only slightly more dangerous than ping pong.

I took about a year for me to finally become motivated enough to do some research into archery classes, book a class, and end up at the Gotham Archery, just a few blocks away from my home in Brooklyn.

After going through fifteen minutes of best practices, the next step before selecting a bow was to determine which was my dominant eye, the one I would keep open as I aimed my arrow. Some people in the class already seemed to know which eye that was. But for others, like me, she offered a tip: make a triangle shape with your hands and close them so that they create a small hole; with arms extended, focus on an object through the hole and slowly pull your hands toward your face. The hole will naturally end up over one eye — your dominant eye.

For a moment, it felt like I had just performed a slick magic trick to no one but myself, like I had discovered a secret that needed to be shared with as many people as possible: “Don’t know what your dominant eye is? Here, I’ll show you a trick. You really should know. It’ll change your life forever.”

But then the next step, still before reaching for a bow, was to establish whether one was right or left handed. Sounds simple enough, except sometimes the dominant eye doesn’t match the dominant hand and, in my case, I was born right-y but became left-y after a childhood accident, which meant that although I write with my left hand many of my athletic techniques are right-handed. This was something I’ve often had to explain to new instructors and coaches, often into puzzled eyes. I had a brief flashback to high school when I broke the left-handed rules in track and would high jump from the right-side and hurdle with a left leg lead. In high school, I probably would’ve been given a right-handed bow. But here, in this Brooklyn archery, I was being assigned a left-handed bow, in large part, it seems, because it was compatible with my dominant left eye.

I didn’t protest too much, as I’ve never held a bow before. I figured my body wouldn’t know the difference and, if it did, it would adapt.

The time came, at last, to select a bow: a recurved bow that looked like a wooden mustache and nearly as tall as me or the more compact compound bow with all its pulleys. As the instructor put it, “do you want to be Katniss or do want to be a hero?” I went for Katniss.

The next forty-five minutes were a combination of yoga and archery. Each time I raised my bow and pulled the arrow back, the instructor or her assistant would modify my posture: shifting my elbow up or down; pushing down on the shoulder bearing the bow; pulling my chest out. Release and repeat.

In the end, I was no Katniss. In fact, I hardly hit any of the rings until the very end. Still, my confidence did reach a place where I could comfortably return to the bow without, perhaps most importantly, the sound of war.

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