ARLINGTON, Va. – Soldier Recovery Units are offering sports that are causing axes and arrows to fly. It’s all part of events and programs that some Soldiers participate in as part of their adaptive reconditioning.
Ax throwing is offered by an SRU in Kentucky, while archers are readying their bows at units in Texas and Hawaii. COVID-19 pandemic precautionary measures are practiced at all three locations.
For those at the Fort Campbell SRU, ax throwing is a bimonthly event. It started last September at a location that reserved two hours just for them, said Adaptive Reconditioning Support Specialist Ashley Riddick. The first was devoted to practicing proper form and the second was dedicated to a double elimination tournament, Riddick said.
Looks can be deceiving when it comes to ax throwing. Riddick explained that it’s about technique and form, not strength.
“It definitely takes practice,” she said.
Sgt. Isaiah Harris, a Soldier assigned to the Fort Campbell SRU, had never thrown an ax before. He described the experience as “surprisingly fun and intriguing.” The best part for him is that it’s not just fun, but also competitive.
Harris was surprised by how easy it was to pick up ax throwing after a bit of coaching. However, there was one shot that challenged him — the killshot — which is aimed at one of two small circles above the bullseye on the target. He said it was the hardest thing to do.
Targets aren’t just for ax throwing. Soldiers at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston SRU head to the archery range for weekly practices. Adaptive Reconditioning Support Specialist, Angel Flores, explained that they are instructed by former ARCP Soldier Jeremy Velez, who picked up the sport while in the program. Velez provides equipment and works with nonprofit organizations to help participants get their own bows and arrows, Flores said.
Master Sgt. Mary Jackson had never shot an arrow before she was assigned to the JBSA SRU. Now she attends archery once a week and practices on her own property with a target she set up at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that the instructors coached her on proper body positioning.
“My coaches were great,” Jackson said.
She also noted that the sport requires participants to focus on themselves, their breathing and body position if they want to hit the target. One of the consequences is that it draws you away from everything and makes you slow down, Jackson explained.
“You have to focus, and [that] helped me a lot,” she said.
Sfc. Geoffrey Davis participates in the archery program and will be training for a competition. Prior to being assigned to the JBSA SRU, he practiced mainly for hunting and target shooting.
“I like all of the projectile sports,” he said. “It’s something I’m good at and get a lot of enjoyment from.”
Davis described archery as a precision sport that offers a “tangible connection to our history” because the equipment changed, but the concept didn’t. He said the sport isn’t tough to learn, but is challenging to master because the most minute inconsistency in technique or form can significantly impact the arrow’s flight.
Novice archers shouldn’t feel discouraged. He said it doesn’t take a great deal of practice to become good at it.
Like many other sports, archery seems to have a knack for bringing people together. Davis described it as a great way to meet people and be active.
Other SRUs also offer archery, including the Schofield Barracks SRU, where Staff Sgt. Armando Luna is assigned. He was slightly skeptical about participating in archery, but that didn’t last long.
“Once I drew that first arrow, I was hooked,” he said.
When it comes to archery, appearances can be deceiving. Luna explained that it looks simple, but the basic fundamentals can’t be overlooked. He said he’s a skilled shot with his military assigned weapon, but was surprised by how easy it was to miss large targets that were directly in front of him at the archery range.
“The best part of archery is being able to work around my injuries while being able to challenge myself to hit the target center mass,” he said.
The competition and fun doesn’t have to end when Soldiers transition. Recreation Therapist Jana Dunn said archery can become a lifelong sport for those who want to continue progressing simply by changing the bow or moving the target farther away. Ax throwing is growing in popularity as well, making it easier for Soldiers to find places to perfect their bullseyes in the years to come.