Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 5, 2014

Ready, aim, release!

River City Roundabout

Eric King is the owner of River City Archery, a newly opened archery range, training facility, and club gathering place on McCallie Avenue. - (Photo by David Laprad)

The bow feels heavy in my left hand as I raise it and point the arrow it holds toward a target at the far end of the archery range. As I pull the string, the amount of resistance surprises me. Actors make it look easy in movies - my sole exposure to the sport until I’d walked into River City Archery - but I’m struggling to draw back the string. I finally tug it into position and prepare to release the bow when a voice behind me says, “Wait.”

The voice belongs to Eric King, certified archery coach and owner of River City Archery, a new gathering place for archery enthusiasts in Chattanooga. I don’t want to wait, but I do as I was told, as he’s the teacher, and I’m the learner.

“Turn your elbow, or the string is going to hit your skin, and you’re going to go home with a strawberry,” he says.

He shows me what to do, but it takes me a few seconds to replicate what I’m seeing. Soon, however, I’m ready to release the string.

I aim and let go. THWACK! Faster than I can blink - or so it seems - the arrow slices through the air and pierces the target. It was my first shot, and I’d landed two rings outside of the bull’s eye. “Take that, Burt Reynolds!” I say, pleased with myself.

King doesn’t understand my obscure ‘70s movie reference, but that’s okay. Even if he’s not familiar with “Deliverance,” he knows archery inside and out, and he has a contagious passion for it.

He’s hoping to get other people excited about it, too. “I would like to see archery become as popular here as it is in other parts of the country,” he says. “In North Central Florida, where I got my certifications, they have dozens of clubs. It’s as popular as youth soccer is here.”

King knows to get to that point, he’s going to have to overcome regional misperceptions about archery. “There are many sides to archery,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to wear camouflage and hunt deer.”

Enjoying a savory venison stew was the last thing on King’s mind when he got into archery. He just wanted to have fun with his kids.

“My kids became interested in archery through camps, so they asked if I could teach them more. I said it would be fun to do together, but I couldn’t teach them anything,” he says.

King and his kids started looking for a place to learn together, but they couldn’t find anything within their budget, so King decided to get certified and teach them himself.

Archery slowly evolved into other things for King, beginning with friends and family showing an interest and gathering in his yard to shoot. Eventually, he put together a multi-week curriculum and borrowed the gym at his church. When he mentioned the class on Facebook, it filled up.

In time, King moved everyone to another location with more space. He also chartered two USA Archery Clubs, a Junior Olympic Club for kids, and an adult archery club.

King wanted to go all the way, but he was busy working as a computer programmer. “Our folks would come in for the weekly club sessions, and they were getting better, but I knew if they wanted to really improve, then they’d have to have a place where they could practice more than once a week,” he says.

When King’s employer eliminated his position, he decided to pursue his dream of doing archery full-time.

River City Archery, located at 1304 McCallie Ave., is the result of the blood, sweat, and tears of that pursuit. Open Mondays through Saturdays from noon to 9 p.m., the spacious indoor archery range alone appears to have been worth it. With 20 mobile targets lined up against one wall in a large, open room, and just as many places to shoot along the other wall, there’s ample space for members to practice.

In addition to range memberships, River City Archery offers several services, including birthday parties, corporate events, classes, and clubs for archery enthusiasts of every age. “Archery is one of the most inclusive sports there is,” King says. “You can do it, whether you’re in grade school or a retiree. I love to show people who have never touched a bow how easy it is.”

King says archery has a low barrier of entry, making it easy to get started. Like a bowling alley, River City Archery has equipment members can use, and when someone is ready to purchase their own gear, King will help them chose it and then configure it for them. He’ll also teach them everything they need to know, beginning with Archery 101 and continuing through more advanced skills and types of archery.

King says the benefits of archery are many, from gaining upper body strength to improving hand-eye coordination. He also says it will get a person off the couch. “You’re going to stretch and you’re going to walk a little,” he says. “You won’t burn a lot of calories, but you’re going to burn more calories than if you were at home watching TV.”

King also says archery can teach a young person discipline. “Archery forces you to slow down, take your time, and be methodical,” he says. “So kids who are hyperactive but want to learn because archery is fun will have to slow down and think through the steps. It’s better than handing them another video game.”

Because of his positive experience learning archery alongside his children, King allows parents who sign up their children for the beginner’s class to take the introductory course with them for free. “I want to give families something they can do together,” he says.

A recent testimony of the father of a shy, quiet girl let King know he’s on the right track with River City Archery. “He thanked me for doing this. He said archery has given his daughter self-confidence and something she looks forward to doing,” he says. “She’s been working on her skills, and doing well.”

With those kinds of results, King is excited about what lies ahead as he rolls out even more services in 2015, including leagues, private lessons, and camps. “I want to expose archery to everybody,” he says. “I love watching people discover how much fun it is.”

The bow feels even heavier as I raise it and point the arrow toward a target at the far end of the archery range. This time, there’s no voice telling me to wait, so I send the arrow flying. It lands outside the target.

No problem. I reach into my quiver, grab another arrow, and nock it into the bow. After all, King was right: this is fun.

To learn more, visit River City Archery online at www.rivercityarchery.com. 

For more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.