When the first installment of author Suzanne Collins’ popular “The Hunger Games” trilogy made its silver-screen-adapted debut last March, local archery shooting ranges saw a sharp increase in interest.
“Everybody has been inundated. It’s been kind of crazy,” said longtime archery instructor Ruth Rowe, a 1984 Olympian in that sport. “The [bow] manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand.”
Rowe has taught lessons at the Bull Run Regional Park Shooting Center in Centreville for ten years. The volume of interested archers visiting the center exploded in April 2012, she said.
“We do a one-time introduction [class] that’s meant to be an exposure. Before this, we were scheduling one every other week. Now, we’re full two or three times a weekend,” Rowe said.
The movies have changed the perception of archery, Rowe said.
“In ‘The Hunger Games,’ it’s a lot more about the traditional [bow and arrow] stuff. I teach all of it, but primarily recurve [bow],” she said. “In the past you would say archery and people would think ‘bow hunting’… but here in the suburbs archery can thrive like golf… The interest in the kids has automatically [made that perception shift].”
Rowe’s students — two-thirds are boys — are interested in target archery, not hunting, she said.
“I’ve tried soccer, basketball, martial arts, and competitive swimming. The other sports I’ve tried are competitive against other people. In archery the competition is within one’s self,” said Vienna resident Clark Rendleman, 14, who takes lessons with his father Charles, 48, and younger brother William, 11.
“Archery is a way for us to spend time together,” Charles said. “[As] my two boys grow older and more independent, archery has been a great way to watch them become more autonomous. Clark has been scoring better than I have pretty much since we started, and it has been great to watch him excel.”
The Rendlemans will be among those participating in the Feb. 2 Virginia State Indoor Championship, which will be held at the Bull Run Shooting Center in Centreville. Participation in the state tournament has spiked in the wake of such high-grossing Hollywood films as “The Hunger Games,” Disney’s “Brave,” which also debuted in 2012, and even the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which was in theaters in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
One such participant is Fairfax resident Ahnika Emery, 37, who took her first lesson nearly three years ago.
“When I first tried archery, it wasn’t at all like I expected it to be. I expected it to be easy and that I would tire of doing the same thing over and over again,” Emery said. “There are many details to a good shot and the challenge of that sparked my interest more than anything else.”
Like the Rendlemans, Emery took lessons with her family.
“For the first year, I took lessons with my sister,” she said. “It was a fun thing to do together and was a less expensive way to take lessons. I think the experience brought us closer and gave us something fun to talk about and share with others.”
So far, more than 75 people have registered for the Feb. 2 event. Registration closes Monday. The event is a Team USA Archery competition hosted by the Fairfax Target Archers.
“Normally we limit it to two [event] times,” Tournament Director Jim Kerrigan said. “But this year we’ve had so much interest that we’ve started a third time.”
Each time slot during the tournament will have 36 participants, who will be assigned to one of 18 shooting lanes. During the competition, each participant will shoot 60 arrows in three-arrow turns.
“And you have a time limit of two minutes to shoot three arrows,” Kerrigan explained, adding that two minutes is plenty of time to shoot three arrows, but “there’s a certain amount of mental preparation that goes into that.”
Competition participants are divided into categories based on age, gender and type of equipment used. Competitors range in age from eight years old on up.
“Archery is a lifelong sport. It’s a lot like golf in that way,” said Rowe, who first took up a bow in college and participated in the 1984 Olympics while in her mid-30s. She has competed in eight world championships, two Pan American Games and a number of national championships. Her last event was in 1999 at the age of 52.
While the largest growth in archery Rowe sees is among tween girls, a number of adults are coming back to the sport after years of absence.
“I wanted to get back into the sport after a more than 30-year layoff, as I shot some in high school,” said Kim Strickland, 58, who began taking group archery lessons from Rowe about eight years ago. “Tournament archery is one of those sports where staying calm is a great benefit to performance.”
She added that archery tends to favor an analytical, contemplative approach over an aggressive, “go for broke” mentality.
“While shooting a bow looks very simple, you actually need to control many things simultaneously while aiming the bow,” she said. “How you hold your head, positions of both your hands; how you hold your arms and shoulders, even the position of your feet and hips has an effect on how stable you can shoot.”
Strickland will be among those competing Feb. 2. Fellow archer Marc Slack, 51, of Herndon will also be competing. Slack, who is also a tae kwon do student boasting a third-degree black belt, said he targeted archery when looking for a less physically demanding sport.
“Finding that my mind and body are no longer cooperating quite as well as when I was a fair bit younger, I needed to find another outlet in addition to tae kwon do for my excess energy,” he said. “Archery is a natural fit for me as it is … in keeping with the kinds of mind/body control you learn in tae kwon do.”
Three types of bows will be seen during the Feb. 2 tournament: the barebow, — like that used by “The Hunger Games” protagonist Katniss Everdeen — recurve and compound bows.
“Barebow means there is no sight on it. The other two — the recurve and the compound bows — have sights on them,” Kerrigan explained. “The barebow is much more instinctive… There is a difference in using a compound [bow] because the sight on a compound allows them to use a glass that magnifies a target. The recurve [bow] doesn’t allow that.”
Magnification sights are not allowed during Olympic competitions, Kerrigan said, but are allowed in some world tournaments.
“What you start with is a recurve bow that’s very light, so the string is really easy to pull back,” he said. “The most important thing is to learn the proper form. It’s easier to learn form when you’re not fighting the effort of handling a heavier-weighted bow.”
The pull on the string of a bow, or weight, is measured in pounds. Many beginners start on a 10-pound pull before advancing to heavier pulls. Compound bows, Kerrigan explained, are built with wheels on either end of the bow, which create a pulley system, offsetting the weight of a string, allowing for greater weight with less effort.
Rowe advises interested beginners to avoid buying any equipment when starting out.
“If you possibly can, avoid buying the equipment at the beginning because… if you buy equipment that the kid can handle they’ll move through it quickly. And if you buy something difficult, the kid will struggle to pull the string back,” Rowe said, adding that quality of bow also ranges dramatically and sporting good chains often don’t offer quality bows.
For more on the upcoming archery tournament, visit www.teamusa.org.