Talk about the art of drawing, and most people will think of pencil and paper.
Mention the subject to Oneida Cason, and her thoughts will drift to the archery range and her recurve-style bow -- her own version of artistic expression.
"Archery is my lifeblood," Cason said during a break from practice at John's Bow Shop in Soldotna. "Even doing other things, it's really hard to get away from archery."
Cason, 16, a junior at Skyview High School, is a member of the Junior Olympic Archery Development program which meets once a week at the shop.
But for Cason, archery is more than a once-a-week pursuit. She picked up her first bow, with her father Garry's guidance and encouragement, at age 3, and has been on the mark ever since.
"I grew up in the bow shop," Cason said. "Charlie Black lived just down the street. He was into archery as much as Daddy was. Tim Weathers, Tom Burg, I wanted to be like them. Anybody that shot at the shop was my idol."
And after 13 years in the sport, Cason has joined the ranks of her idols as one of the top archers not just on the Kenai Peninsula or in Alaska, but in the United States.
Cason competed in three tournaments in the Lower 48 this year, and has three first-place trophies sitting on the counter at the bow shop.
"The field archery tournament she competed in was the national championship," said Cason's coach, Leroy Legg. "She had to shoot in the adult division, and she took the adult national title."
Cason hasn't had the opportunity to compete Outside all that often. Including the three tournaments she traveled to this summer, she has competed in four tournaments in the Lower 48.
"When I was at a tournament in Georgia, on the first day, I wasn't even on the leader board -- they didn't even know who I was," Cason said. "At the end of the day, I was in first place. I got there the second day, and they're all talking about this girl that was kicking their butts."
Not competing Outside on a regular basis has hurt Cason's national standing. While her wins had her ranked as high as second nationally in her age group, other archers have been able to pass her after more recent competitions.
Cason and other members of the peninsula's JOAD program are always appreciative of any help they get to finance trips to major tournaments.
"Oneida's been lucky to be able to travel," Legg said. "We're always looking for help for kids to travel. Other kids on the peninsula have the ability to be ranked nationally."
Cason said that her bow -- affectionately named "My Monster" -- has become a means of expression for her.
"I have all kinds of stuff on it. It looks really funky," Cason said. "It'll be hard getting a new one."
Cason said she named her bow because all the accessories -- a 36-inch stabilizer and a set of V-bars -- made it difficult to cart around.
"I just decided one day that this was my monster," Cason said.
Cason remembers her first bow, mostly because of its awkward feel.
"I started out with a right-handed bow," said Cason, a left-handed archer. "I remember the struggle to be left-handed."
Since then, Cason has grown into and out of numerous bows, all but one of them recurve-style bows.
"I've had one compound bow in all of those years," Cason said. "I grew out of it, and I decided I wanted an Olympic recurve bow."
A compound bow utilizes a pulley system, giving the archer some mechanical assistance with the draw. A recurve bow has a more traditional look to it, with a single bowstring.
"It's a feel thing," Cason said of the difference between the two. "A compound bow has a lessening of poundage at the end of the draw. A recurve bow doesn't have that. It's smoother through the whole draw."
Legg called shooting recurve bows an art form and shooting compounds bows a more technical pursuit -- similar to the comparisons anglers make between fly rods and spinning reels.
"There are bowyers on the peninsula that make bows out of beautiful wood," Cason said. "Some of them, you almost don't want to shoot because they're so pretty."
Cason said she enjoys other pursuits, but everything comes back to archery.
"The concentration level in everything else you do is the same," Cason said. "My sister was on the swim team, and she was helping out a teammate. I heard her saying the same things -- focus, concentrate. Those key words follow you everywhere."
Cason is hoping that archery will follow her for a long time to come. She'd like to have a little more exposure at the national level, and would like to attend a college with an archery team. After that, the sky's the limit, and a chance to compete for a spot on the national team isn't out of the question -- the national JOAD program produced an Olympic gold medalist at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
In the meantime, Cason has three nationally sanctioned tournaments in Alaska to prepare for -- the state indoor, the state field shoot and the Northwest sectionals.
Cason said that shooting well requires both mental and physical focus.
"When you shoot, you practice for different things," Cason said. "One day, you might think about how you hold the bow. Maybe one day, you work on aiming. In a tournament, you concentrate on putting them all together and making the shot work. There's a lot of muscle memory involved.
"Hopefully, you can put it all together and just go with it. I've been in tournaments where I'll finish and not even know how many arrows I've shot. They all just go where they're supposed to. That's what archery is all about."
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