It looks extremely cool in the movies and easy to do. But archery is harder than it looks. I watched the ease with which it was done in the movie Hunger Games, and thought I was prepared to hit my target when I visited the Michael McKenzie Archery Range in Chaguaramas for a training session. With my legs spread slightly apart but firmly planted on the ground, my upper body twisted in the direction of the target, my bow in hand and my arrow ready to aim and fire, the only thing I felt was my arm quickly weakening and shaking. Was this normal? T&T Archery Federation president Gregory Quesnel says it is. Coaching me through the beginner steps, he said the sport does in fact require strengthening of the upper body. Hitting the target’s bull’s eye actually involves using muscles in the back and core. “You are supposed to shoot with your back and core, and not your arm. The arm is the final delivery,” explained Quesnel. He said my arm shook because the muscles used in the back and core to shoot were not used to the effort. “In archery you use upper-body muscles that are not normally utilised, for example, the rotator cuff muscles (muscles that stabilise the shoulder and elevate and rotate the arm.) If these have not been developed, then you would find it difficult to shoot. It takes a lot of practice,” he said.
It took me three shots before I could manage a firm grip on the recurve bow, which is the one used at Olympic level. The other is the compound bow. Quesnel says both are made from an aluminum riser and laminated composite material. Arrows are generally either aluminum or aluminum carbon composite. Archery equipment can be expensive—it can cost up to $20,000. Once I figured out the technique, hitting the target dead on centre was easy. The sport takes a lot of concentration, but is also a lot of fun and can become addictive once you get the hang of it. “There are really two groups of people who join archery—those who do it for recreational reasons and those who train at the competitive level.”
Archery provides stress relief for those who just want to have fun and socialise, while those training at competitive level get to take part in tournaments and travel to represent T&T at international competitions. At what age can you get involved? Quesnel says from nine to 90. “We recommend age seven to nine as appropriate ages for children to get involved in archery, simply because at that stage, following instructions is easier.” Both male and female would-be archers are welcome in all categories—cadets, up to 17 years old; juniors, up to 21; seniors, 21 and over and masters—50 and over. “Archery is the only sport (in which) you don’t have to worry about an early retirement age. You can be 50 and still shoot,” he said.
So why is it that after 20 years in T&T, archery is still not a popular sport? Quesnel says finding full-time trainers and coaches to manage clubs has been a challenge. The executive members of the federation as well as the club presidents and officials of the individual clubs volunteer their service in their spare time. “Not just anyone can teach the sport. It takes professional coaches with years of experience to become trainers, he noted. There’s no infrastructure for it in schools. After all, archery is not something you can just set up anywhere, like a basketball court. It’s listed as a dangerous sport, for obvious reasons. “You can’t just go anywhere and shoot. It must be a designated area used solely for that purpose.”
There are five clubs in Trinidad, with a total of perhaps 200 members, in Chaguaramas, El Dorado, Hillview College, Chaguanas, Reform Village, and the Forest Reserve Archery Club at Petrotrin grounds.
The federation is establishing the first archery club in Tobago. Despite their small numbers, though, local archers have done well. A team represented T&T in the Commonwealth Games in India two years ago. The federation has sent representatives to the last four Central America and Caribbean Games, as well as the two Archery World Cup Tournaments. “We are always involved in tournaments. We went to two for the year already—Colombia in April and El Salvador in May.” Quesnel’s goal as president of the federation is to promote and develop the sport to its fullest in T&T and throughout the region. He says while its greatest accomplishment is just surviving for the past 20 years and getting the sport recognised to the point of having the ministry fund part of its expenses, there is still a long way to go. “We are so grateful to the ministry, but they can’t do it alone. We need the public and private sectors to come on board if archery in T&T is to reach Olympic level,” he said. Minister of Sports Anil Roberts says he can empathise with the challenges faced by the federation, because he faced similar challenges as the only professional swimming coach in the country in 1993. He says archery as a sport is developing and the ministry is proud of the accomplishments—particularly those of compound archers George Vire and Rakesh Sookoo, who are among the top 100 archers in the world.