Threading an arrow, she draws her bow, anchors, aims, exhales and releases. The bowstring twangs and an arrow thuds into the brightly coloured bullseye. It’s a daily training routine that proves effective for Luzanne Grant, the South African archer who holds Provincial Colours in four archery disciplines, National Colours in three and Protea Colours in two.
Luzanne collected gold at the 2018 International Field Archery (Women’s Freestyle Division) Championships, competing against world-class archers from 24 countries, and set a national South Africa women’s scoring record during a 2018 World Cup event in Turkey.
“I like to practise early, every morning. Starting my day shooting is the best,” she says, as she lowers her bow and prepares for the next shot. The elite archer works tirelessly to regain the edge after an unforeseen misfortune sidelined her for much of the 2019 season.
In February, one week after shooting an outdoor field tournament, Luzanne experienced severe pain that radiated from a small blister on her right leg. Doctors identified it is a spider bite that required hospitalisation and several months of recuperation. She missed the annual field-qualification rounds. “Things happen, generally for a reason,” the fully recovered, upbeat competitor tells me between practice arrows. She is now focused on 2020.
Luzanne began competitive shooting only three years ago but it’s a slapdash view of her history. She has been shooting since 2005 when husband Redge gave her a bow on their wedding day. Soon after, the couple opened Archer’s Edge bow shop in Pretoria, where she has worked since 2009, learning the fundamentals of shooting and all the technical aspects. Luzanne also repairs, tunes, and advises competitors about equipment, and coaches newcomers.
“I’m shooting a tournament this weekend,” Luzanne says. “Why don’t you come and see what it’s all about? It’s a 3D tournament, not something I regularly shoot, but good practice for field events.”
A few days later, I find an enclave of archery enthusiasts at the end of a dirt road near Donkerhoek rural community, east of Pretoria. A throng of competitors gathers at the clubhouse and a couple of dozen stand side by side, shooting on the practice field. The sound of thudding arrows starts slowly, builds to a crescendo and dies off as the shooters complete their sets.
Luzanne cheerily greets me and introduces Pierre van Wyk, event organiser, seven-time South Africa Nationals Champion and two-time field archery world champ. He painstakingly explains match objectives and details some of the history.
The 3D Archery Tournament, called the 2019 Mpumalanga Provincial Champs, consists of 20 targets placed at various stations in the bushveld. Competitors are grouped in flights of six and walk the course to access each shooting station. The targets represent full-size, three-dimensional game animals placed at known and unknown distances. An archer shoots one arrow at each of the twenty targets for a final score.
“In 1994, the shooting game was formed in the USA as a means for hunters to develop shooting proficiency,” Pierre tells me. Since then, 3D has become a major, mainstream competitive sport due to the level of difficulty. Tens of thousands of dollars are awarded annually in American tournaments, and many African archers chase the high-dollar pots.
Beating your personal best
Soon, Luzanne and the group of five other archers receive instruction and we walk together through a field moist with morning dew, along a small lake and into a poplar forest, until we reach the starting point. Target number nine. The archers must shoot a small ‘buck’ tucked between trees and placed about 30 metres away.
Luzanne steps first to the line. I gaggle with shooters Folkers (Follie) Herholdt of Pretoria and Tjaard du Plessis of Heidelberg. Follie owns a company that makes custom bowstrings and departs for America the next week to compete as a pro in a series of high-stakes archery tournaments. Tjaard has been shooting 3D seriously since 2016 and has two national titles under his belt. We watch Luzanne prepare for the first strike of the tournament.
The veteran competitor uses a small rangefinder to calculate distance, plants her feet, positions herself sideways to the target, and begins a regimen of shooting that includes a dozen processes, maybe more, all needing precise execution. She releases an arrow and it appears to be a good one. The other shooters take their turn, score the target and we hike to the next station.
I walk with Reghardt van Jaarsveld of Pretoria, Anthony Lauter of Johannesburg and Jaco Streicher of Heidelberg. Reghardt began 3D shooting in February and is learning the sport. Anthony began shooting in 2009 but this is only his second tournament. Jaco enjoys the challenge, shoots only for fun, satisfied to simply beat his previous personal best.
We reach the next station to find a faux warthog in the shadows of thick brush, 20 metres from the line. The archers must shoot into the sun and find the obscured bullseye on the 3D target. Luzanne will be last to shoot so we grab a seat under a nearby tree. I ask what inspired her to take up high-stakes competitive archery. “My dad died in 2016 and I was not in a good place. Archery was an outlet for my mind and helped me get through that period of my life,” Luzanne says.
Soon, it’s her turn to address the target. I hope our conversation won’t rattle her, but quickly discount the thought. Strong-willed competitors like Luzanne seem to find a way to turn tragedy into triumph.
The mental game
We carry on, hiking through a forest of karee and stinkwood trees where Reghardt, a well-studied amateur historian, points to a series of discordant trenches on the forest floor. “They were made by soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War,” says Regy. “And the 1900 Battle for Diamond Hill was fought where we stand.” We leave the forest, come to an open meadow and Follie joins the conversation.
The pro archer points to a patch of knee-high weed khakibos, “An invasive plant brought here by the Brits during the Anglo-Boer War. Its seed arrived here in the hay bales used to feed their horses. And the khaki-coloured uniforms of the British soldiers inspired the plant’s name.”
We reach the next target. Luzanne is first on the line and takes aim at a life-size kudu target 50 metres away. She releases an arrow, then lifts her binoculars to determine arrow placement. The shot must be on target because she turns and smiles.
The tournament ends in the early afternoon after the archers have visited 20 targets. They sit down to calculate final scores and discuss good shots and bad, but seem satisfied with the overall results. We return to the muster area and I ask Luzanne about the challenges of high-end tournament archery.
“The mental game is the hardest part of archery, for sure, but if you are not physically fit, the mind cannot process it,” she tells me. Luzanne engages regularly in aerobic exercise as part of a holistic archery-fitness regimen and suggests her lifetime dalliance in traditional sport has been an asset.
The benefits of archery
The South African archery champion received a bursary to play netball at the University of Pretoria during her university days, then gravitated toward athletics where she also triumphed. Lessons of discipline, hard work, fitness, mental focus and the mechanics of sport groomed her for future archery success. “People who put in the work get to the top,” Luzanne tells me, and suggests she still has lots of work to reach her goals. The determined archer must make up for time lost after the spider mishap.
The benefits of archery are huge and for a wide audience. The sport helps kids focus, assists adults with self-discipline, provides personal challenge, creates social opportunity and is great fun. The option to compete is always present but is not the focus of every archer.
“It’s one of the great things about the sport,” Luzanne says. “Anyone can pick up a bow.” She tells me about a couple in their 70s who shoots at the Archer’s Edge field range once a week as a shared activity. “I want to introduce as many people as possible to archery, so they can see how much fun it is.”
Her passion for the sport is unmistakable, and it’s no surprise that the day her husband presented her with a bow was the day she was shot with Cupid’s arrow.