Straight-as-an-arrow aim earned 16-year-old Hay River archer Julianne Groenewegen a trip to compete in the Arctic Winter Games and she returned with a silver ulu.

“Going into it I was hoping for a bronze medal – that was my personal goal – but I ended up getting higher than I was hoping for so that was good,” Julianne, who won the medal on her 16th birthday, said.

Although she only started training just before the AWG tryouts in November and has been shooting for less than a year, Julianne made the team and subsequently competed in the compound class in both the individual female category and the team event at the Games in Fort McMurray recently.

And what was Julianne’s secret to success in pinpointing that small target from 18 metres away?

“You line up your sight using a compound bow and then you have to stop breathing for a second and aim. Then it’s a series of movements you do with the bow after you let go of the arrow so the arrow doesn’t go another way,” Julianne said of the sharp-shooting technique needed to hit the small target.

“Basically, it is keeping your focus on what you need to do.”

While she said archery is not an overly popular sport amongst people, she said she enjoys it and plans to continue competing when possible.

Julianne will no doubt have lots of supportive people around her in the future, her uncle Jeff Groenewegen and her cousins Grayson and Hunter all participate in the sport as well, with Grayson being one of her teammates at the recent Games.

Jeff, who is also their coach, said the Hay River Archery Club where they practice is only one of two clubs in the NWT, the other being in Yellowknife.

“The club was a new idea to get people new to archery involved and to get kids involved,” he said, adding that the Aboriginal Sports Circle has done an exceptional job at promoting archery as a sport around the NWT.

“One of the neat things about archery is the fact that it is a traditional sport that has been practiced for literally thousands of years. In the past, it was developed for hunting and survival skills and one of those things people had to learn how to do,” he said.

Archery is a family sport in the Groenewegen family from Hay River — Julianne and her cousin Grayson are shown at the Arctic Winter Games where they competed in archery. Julianne was a silver ulu winner at the Games. Photo courtesy of the Groenewegen family

A difference of centimetres

A total of eight NWT archers – four male and four female – participated in the recent Games, he said.

“Our NWT archers did really well. It was the first time that archery has ever been a sport at the AWG.”

A sport requiring not only good eyesight but also a steady arm and a calm demeanour, Jeff said it is something anyone can learn and enjoy.

“The athletes are shooting at a target that is eight inches wide and the bullseye of the target is basically the size of a nickel.”

Because hitting the bullseye can garner 10 points and hitting the outer edges of the target six points, Jeff said there can be some close matches.

“The difference between one point in a match can be a centimetre or even less,” he said.

“It’s definitely a sport where a couple of millimetres can make or break you. It’s just all part of the competitiveness of it.”

Another aspect of the game is that it is all-inclusive, Jeff said.

“One of the things I really like about it is the fact that if you look at larger national tournaments that are held and review the finalists, quite often you will have a 15-year-old shooting next to a 75-year-old.

“There is really nothing in the way of an age barrier when It comes to archery. For many years, men and women competed in the same category. There are as many female sharpshooters out there as there are males. It’s a very equal opportunity sport.”

As for their first Arctic Winter Games, Jeff said they had “an amazing time” and that it was a great experience for them.

“This was a brand-new experience where they were competing against other youth around the circumpolar world. It had an element of excitement and the competition was so close that it was exciting for them.”

And while Grayson and Hunter will go on to compete in the upcoming Canada Winter Games in P.E.I. next month, Julianne has her archery sights set on next year.

“I think I will compete next year for sure in Alaska,” she said. The 2024 Arctic Winter Games are to be hosted near Anchorage.

Jeff said overall it is a sport they all enjoy.

“I would encourage anyone interested in archery to get out and try it. The Hay River Archery club has bows they can use. It’s a great sport and can be enjoyed by all ages.”

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