In conventional sports, small errors don’t necessarily make or break a performance. Quarterbacks can get away with an incomplete pass here or there. A swinging strike won’t doom an at-bat.
Hannah Mathley isn’t afforded that margin of error.
In a matter of just a few seconds, everything Mathley does has to be perfect. She walks up to a white line painted along the grass of an open range and plants her feet comfortably into the ground. Her eyes squint, her faces tenses up ever so slightly and she makes sure her breath is timed on conformity as she pulls back and releases an arrow.
If everything is done just right, the arrow zips across the plane and into the center of a target 30 meters away. At a Monday practice, Mathley was able to do this in five consecutive shots to near perfection. For as long as she’s been shooting, it’s an outstanding feat.
“She’s picked it up very quick,” Mathley’s shooting coach, Brandon Williams, said. “There’s a lot of form involved and she’s picked it up and stays so consistent.
“You can tell her what to do and she’ll improve just like that.”
Mathley, 14 and homeschooled, has only been shooting compound bows in competitive archery for two years. Before then, she was focused on volleyball, which she has been playing since the fourth grade.
But in the fifth grade she picked up a bow at a camp. She said she wasn’t outstanding at the time, but enjoyed it, so she joined a shooting club called 4-H, an organization to develop skills in archery and other shooting sports while building character in youth.
Mathley teamed up with Williams, now her 4-H head coach, a year and a half ago. Now Mathley is preparing to head to the State Games of America, which will be held July 31-Aug. 2 in Lincoln, Neb.
Mathley qualified for the State Games of America by placing in the top three of the Georgia qualifier two weeks ago.
“I am surprised,” Mathley said. “When I qualified for nationals I was ecstatic but also very surprised. I never thought I’d want to take it this far, but once I qualified I realized this was a once in a lifetime experience.”
At nationals, Mathley will be asked to shoot five arrows in five rounds from three separate distances—20 meters, 30 meters and 40 meters. She was going through some pre-tournament diagnostics Monday, which included finding the right amount of weight for the tips of her arrows.
Despite the competitive edge, Mathley said she’s enjoyed the archery community just as much, if not more, than the sport itself.
“It’s an individual sport, so you’re basically competing against yourself,” Mathley said. “We are all close to the other clubs and make friends at competitions.”
In 4-H, the organization’s principles are narrowed down to “Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.” Mathley said she hopes her heart stands out the most.
“I do a lot of volunteer projects and love to help people,” Mathley said.
“4-H is a huge deal for us,” Williams said. “They have matches throughout the year, but it’s just a great way to get kids outside, not on the computer or playing video games all day.”
Mathley said she will decide down the road which sport she wants to continue at a competitive level.
“I’m still trying to decide which one I want to do,” she said. “I definitely want to keep doing this as long as possible, but not sure if I want to at a higher level than right now.”