Nebraskan Erika Anschutz Dominates World of Competitive Archery
By Jeff Kurrus
Erika Anschutz has been winning archery tournaments since she was 7 years old and, at 18, is howing no signs of slowing down.
When I first saw Erika Anschutz, she was standing on the Prairie Bowman Range in Lincoln preparing to shoot at a target nearly 80 yards away. Resting next to her on a tripod was a spotting scope. “At this distance, do you ever know where your arrow hits without looking in the scope?” I asked after introducing myself.
“I can tell you nine out of ten times.”
Totally out of my league and with no knowledge at all of the world of target archery, I called what I thought was her bluff. “I don’t believe you.”
As I leaned over and peered through her scope, she released her next arrow. “That’s right on,” she said, awaiting my response.
“One for one,” I returned.
She pulled another arrow from the quiver that hung on her hip, drew back again, and released. “Three o’clock, maybe 3:30, in the nine point range,” she said.
I quickly learned that Erika didn’t bluff.
I also learned that she is used to being right on the bow range. Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, Erika moved to Grand Island when she was 3 after her father got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has been shooting archery since the tender age of 6. “She first picked up a bow in October of 1995, won her first tournament in Grand Island in January of 1996, and went to the National Field Archery Association’s (NFAA) National Indoor Championship two months later,” said her father, Steve Anschutz.
In that first national tournament, she placed fourth in the 11 and under division as a 7-year-old. “I was pretty disappointed,” Erika recollected. “But I just didn’t know what to expect. The next year, I came back and won it.” It was the first of seven times she has won that particular tournament, the most recent victory coming in 2006 when she won the Professional Women’s Freestyle Division title in her rookie year as a professional. Winning has been a central theme in Erika’s archery career, a resume that currently boasts 35 national titles and 150 national records, 18 of which are world records.
So how did she get her start in a field where she has had so much success? Simple. “My dad always hunted with a bow and I tagged along with him to archery club shoots when I was little,” Erika said. When she began her young shooting career, it was immediately evident she was talented. “Erika liked shooting right off the bat,” Steve said. “She took it very seriously early on.” As she continued to shoot, Erika progressed very quickly. Her dad, who had shot in archery tournaments at the state, regional and national level, coached her on shooting form and proper technique. “You didn’t have to bug Erika to shoot,” he said. “She already had a highly competitive nature. It was more like, ‘When are we going to practice, Dad?’”
Erika continued to concentrate on her archery, entering, and winning, tournaments. “I was progressing so fast it became the little things that kept me going. ‘Beat this person’ or ‘I have to win this tournament’ was what I was always thinking.” But winning tournaments wasn’t enough. “Her goal started to be to beat everyone in the tournament she was entering, regardless of age or gender,” said Steve. “I’ll never forget it. She beat me for the first time at an indoor tournament in Omaha in 1997 when she was 8 years old. All of my friends laughed. Within a year, she was beating them too.”
“I’m never satisfied unless I’m perfect,” Erika said. “Even if I win a tournament, I’m still not satisfied if I don’t meet all of my expectations. And I hardly ever meet my expectations.”
In a 1998 interview with Grand Island Independent writer Terry Douglass, Erika was asked to comment after amassing 593 out of a possible 600 points as a 9-year-old while capturing her second consecutive national indoor championship. “I think I can get a perfect 600,” she said, “I’ve just got to keep practicing.” A year later, she did just that, becoming the youngest archer in the history of the NFAA’s National Indoor Championship tournament to ever shoot a perfect score of 600 by placing 120 arrows from 20 yards in a three-inch-diameter bullseye over the course of the two-day competition.
As she got older and entered middle, then high school, Erika's life, like most teenagers, changed. Yet there was at least one constant - "My dad was always there to shoot with." In middle and high school, Erika practiced an average of 10 hours a week. "Both of my parents have really influenced me. While my mom helps my mental preparation and travel arrangements, my dad coached
One of the first things Kevin did was advise Erika to begin a weight training program. "He was interested in strengthening my left elbow in order to help the tendonitis in it. As a bonus, it would help me build my muscles so I would have more stamina, be able to hold steadier, and pull back more poundage." Erika enlisted the aid of Grand Island Senior High School athletic trainer John Swanson, who designed a weight lifting program that also targeted her shoulders, legs and core.
The result was a physically fit athlete with natural talent and a will to be perfect, but there's another facet of Erika that aids her dominance: her mental toughness. For most bowhunters, seeing a big buck in the woods and drawing back on him can, to say the least, increase the heart rate a bit. More than one hunter has felt a shake of the arm, fidget of the legs or an inability to control one's breathing in this situation.
Now, imagine pulling your bowstring back while one of the world's best archers stands next to you, waiting for you to shoot so she can shoot in a 'can- you-top-this' type of format. Add a crowd of several hundred spectators standing behind you to watch you succeed or, quite possibly, fail. In outdoor competition, Erika's goal in these pressurized competitions
"They blow air horns and beat drums. They can do whatever they want," Erika said. "I was in France competing in March 2003 at the same time the war with Iraq was starting, and the crowd was loud, really loud. What made it worse, I was shooting against a French girl. Every time I was about to shoot, fans booed and hissed the entire time. When she shot, it was quiet as could be. Our coaches had even been nervous at the opening ceremony about us being hurt."
Having French citizens jeering you usually isn't how a teenager spends a weekend, yet Erika was never a typical teenager. "I could have gone to prom, but I was at an archery tournament," Erika said with a laugh. In fact, she graduated from Grand Island Senior High School as the valedictorian of her class of 460 students, and did so in only three years. Right now, she's trying to manage a life of being a college student and a world-class archer, a life that can be quite surreal at times. "In high school, everyone knew I shot archery. My teachers would wish me luck and ask where I was going that weekend. Even students I didn't even know, who probably recognized me because I did two demonstrations at the school, knew me as 'archer girl.' I just got used to it.
"During my demonstrations, we make a big deal about shooting an apple off of someone's head at 20 yards. We get the entire crowd believing we are going to use that person. I even used my high school principal before. Then we set up a picture of that person's head and shoot an apple off the top of it. People really enjoy it."
"Would that be easy?" I interrupted.
"Would what be easy?"
"To really shoot an apple off someone's head?"
"Oh yeah," she responded nonchalantly, before continuing her story.
"Then, when I moved to Lincoln, no one knew who I was. Until one day we were doing introductions on our dorm room floor and we had to give one interesting fact about ourselves. I told them I competed in international archery competitions. 'I think I read a story about you,' one person said; 'I think I remember you,' another one added."
Erika's new environment also came with new challenges. Aside from managing a difficult class and practice schedule, she has also found herself on more than one occasion trying to explain to an instructor why she needed to miss a class. "Explaining to my professors that I have to leave for 11 days to compete in the junior world championships wasn't the easiest thing to do. It's sometimes hard to make people understand what I'm actually doing."
Erika's schedule is also different at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which she is attending as a newly turned 18-year-old. "I was on a set schedule in high school with my weight program and my practice schedule." Erika confessed her practice regiment was chaotic this fall as she tried to acclimate to her new environment, yet there's still no loss of focus for this world champion.
Since she made her first junior world team in 2002 at the age of 13, Erika has been a member of six world teams and has now become the elder statesman. "I am the veteran this year," she said, "I remember looking up at the older shooters when I was young, thinking 'You guys are so good.' Now I am in that spot … but not for long."
This year Erika will have to begin shooting in the adult division full time. Yet it won't be her first competition against all ages. In March 2006, she won her first national championship as a professional archer in a 10-arrow shoot-off against the defending national indoor champion and world-record holder, Christie Colin. Christie hit the X-ring in the bullseye with nine of her arrows, while Erika managed to hit it all 10 times, a feat that Erika speaks fondly about: "The shoot-off was prompted after we both shot 117 out of 120 arrows into the X-ring, which measured about 1.5 inches in diameter, over the course of two days (tying the Professional Women's Division National Record). The fact that I, being 17 years old and at my first national competition as a professional, had to shoot-off against one of the greatest indoor female archers of all time, made it a completely surreal situation. The shoot-off was done in front of hundreds of people with several thousand dollars on the line. We were to shoot 10 arrows and if we were still tied after that, we would go into "sudden death," shooting arrow by arrow until someone missed. As it turned out, we didn't have to go into sudden death, thank God, because she slightly missed the X-ring with her fourth arrow. I ended up putting all 10 of mine in the X-ring, winning the title of Professional National Indoor Archery Champion."
A month before that tournament, Erika had traveled to Kansas City to compete in the Kansas City Shootout. When she found out that there was a limited number of female competitors, Erika asked to shoot with the pro men. "There were no pro women in my division," she said. "If I won, I would only get 80 percent of my entry fee back. But if I competed with the men I could have won money. To shoot with them, all of the competitors would have to agree, and one didn't. 'She's not a man,' he had said, so I was unable to compete with them."
Erika's competitions, at least for now, are also limited by one other important factor, a point that brings a lot of questions for those who have followed her career. In an Independent story in 2002, it was stated that Erika hoped to represent the U.S in the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China.
"Did I say that?" Erika said with a sheepish grin. "How about 2012? In the Olympics, there isn't a compound bow competition. There's only a recurve. I plan on making the switch next year but it's been hard putting the compound down after turning professional. But I love to shoot the recurve because it's totally different. I'll make a run at the 2012 team."
Whether she is competing in the world championships in Mexico or, in her latest endeavors, trying to start an archery team at UN-L, Erika Anschutz has a very firm idea of where her career and life are going. "There are a couple of professional archers in the country who shoot solely as a career, but that's it," she said. She's considering law school, but she still knows what her archery goals are. "I'll have to make the senior world team after this year and will have to make that from here on out. Every odd numbered year is indoor and outdoor worlds." Plus, there's still that thought in the back of her head regarding the 2012 Olympics.
Regardless of what path Erika takes, it is quite obvious that because of her competitive nature and her composed demeanor, she'll be successful at whatever she decides to do in life, especially if her success depends on her remaining calm. "I don't get nervous a lot," she said.
"Obviously," I thought. "By the way, how do you decide what type of arrows you shoot?"
For a split second, a minor moment in time, world-class archer Erika Anschutz reverted back to being a teenager. "Whatever Dad puts on there," she said.
It's certainly worked so far.