What if you could choose a sport for you and your family that boosted focus, stamina, concentration and self-confidence?
Tall order, right? Well, not if you’re talking about archery.
Just ask Casey Kaufhold, although she might be biased. After all, she loves archery, her brother Connor loves archery, and – by the way – she’s the daughter of Rob and Carole Kaufhold, owners of Lancaster Archery Supply. Still, Casey comes by her love for archery honestly.
In fact, she sounds like any other middle-school archer, runner or football player. When asked what she loves most about shooting a bow and arrow, this 12-year-old athlete waxes poetic about archery as a competitive sport: “I love meeting and getting together with friends from around the country,” Casey said. “I also love the competition and challenge of trying to shoot a personal best score.”
Casey, though young, has a goal: She wants to follow in the footsteps of Olympic hopeful Mackenzie Brown, who’s currently atop the U.S. women’s rankings for the Rio 2016 Olympic Trials. Although archery competitors are grouped by age, Casey earned a shot to compete against her hero in January at the Lancaster Archery Classic, when she was still 11 years old.
The Classic is one of the world’s most prestigious indoor archery tournaments. It attracts several hundred archers to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and it’s hosted by the Kaufhold family and the staff of Lancaster Archery Supply.
Casey shoots a recurve bow that’s a slightly higher-tech version of the one Katniss Everdeen shot in “The Hunger Games.” Her bow has curved, elongated limbs, and she uses her fingers rather than a release-aid to pull the bowstring and release the arrows.
The Classic, however, doesn’t have a youth division for female recurve archers, so Casey competed in the women’s division against 20 others – several of whom are nationally ranked.
On a cold January afternoon, Casey headed into the competition venue with her bow and a quiver full of arrows. She knew she had to shoot 60 arrows for the tournament’s first stage, worth up to 11 points per arrow. Her only goal was to consistently use the technique she had diligently practiced at home.
In some competitions, an eighth-place finish isn’t special, but only the top eight archers at the Classic advance from the qualification rounds to the elimination rounds’ head-to-head competition. Casey stuck to her technique in her qualification round, despite all the excitement around her, including the presence of several world-class archers. Under the watchful eye of her coach, Heather Pfiel, Casey nailed her event, averaging just over 8 points per arrow to earn eighth place in the 21-archer division. Brown, the Olympic hopeful, locked down the top score with the same technique that will likely take her to Rio.
Meanwhile, bigger forces were massing outside the Lanco Fieldhouse, the tournament’s venue. Pennsylvania would receive a crushing 33 inches of snow that weekend as part of an epic blizzard that slammed the East Coast from Washington, D.C., to New England. The storm, nicknamed “Snowzilla,” caused 55 deaths across the mid-Atlantic states, and economic losses in the billions. But no one knew where the storm was headed the morning of Jan. 22.
Rob and Carole Kaufhold intently watched the weather reports, knowing archers had flown from Europe and beyond to compete. They moved forward with the competition, hoping the weather would cooperate enough for plows to move, as it had in previous years.
As Casey shot her final arrows, the fieldhouse was abuzz – not just about the shooting but also about the weather. Unbeknownst to many archers finishing the afternoon round, snow had been falling so swiftly that Lancaster County imposed a travel ban. In turn, the Kaufholds had to cancel the first day of the elimination rounds. That also meant cutting the number of matches to finish the tournament on Sunday after the snow ended.
That cutback had a personal impact, as well, which Carole explained: “[Casey] came running up to me and said: ‘I qualified eighth! I qualified eighth! And I’m going to shoot against Mackenzie Brown in the elimination match!’ I had to tell her that you did awesome, you did great, that’s wonderful, that’s the dream of a lifetime, but we won’t be able to shoot because of the storm.”
Rob felt Casey’s pain. “From an 11-year-old’s standpoint, Mackenzie Brown is one of just a few young recurve archers that she really, really looks up to,” he said. “She’s just a wonderful person. Casey was so looking forward to that. No one wanted to shoot every arrow of that competition more than I did.”
Carole echoed his thoughts: “It was just very emotional. We understand. Our staff and our whole company plans for a year for each event. … A lot of people’s hopes and dreams were crushed with the news, archers and staff alike.”
As for Casey, archery is making her a great athlete while teaching her resilience and focus. “At first, I was mad at my parents a little bit, but then I realized it wasn’t really their fault,” she said. “It was just the weather. You can’t control the weather. You’re not going to beat Mackenzie Brown your first time shooting against her because she’s a great archer. So just shooting against her would be a great privilege for me.”
Casey could get another opportunity. She loves shooting archery, and she tries to practice almost daily. Besides, she met her only goal for that tournament: making the top eight – a feat for archers of any age.
With Snowzilla behind her and the outdoor archery season under way, Casey shows remarkable maturity for someone so young. Maybe that’s par for the course for a kid who has held a bow since she was 18 months old. Archery has taught her lessons in courage and patience, as well as how to secure her own meat. She has shot four deer with a bow, and knows how to stay mission-focused when challenged.
Perhaps most important, she’s learned to have faith in herself. When asked if she plans to one day qualify for the Olympics, Casey wouldn’t rule it out. “You never know,” she said with a smile.