Kenya’s Olympics archer and former African champion has set her eyes on reclaiming her continental title even as she focuses on honing her skills with a view to competing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Shehzana Anwar, 29, who represented Kenya in archery at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, said she is gearing up to contest for top titles both locally and internationally with an eye on the Tokyo Games.
“Even though 2020 Olympics seem far, I feel that I am already running out of time,” Shehzana says.
Shehzana is also aiming to improve her world ranking which stood at 195 after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The distance she covers back and forth on a normal practice day from the shooting line to the target to collect her arrows is approximately 8km, which she says also serves as fitness exercise.
“The sport involves standing for long periods of time and one has to keep the stamina all through. If one becomes shaky, shooting suffers,” she says.
She points out that archery is a game of perfection since some top archers have beaten their opponents by one inch.
During practice sessions, the lanky athlete aims at her target located 70 metres away, unmoved by the chilly and windy morning weather.
Having competed in many championships, Shehzana is confident of hitting the bull’s eye with her first shot in a competition. Anwar ventured into the sport that was originally known as a combat and hunting venture in Africa.
I watch her at the practice range as she walks back to the shooting line, determination for a perfect shot written all over her face.
She takes position after fitting an arrow in her bow and aims, and she suddenly stops to explain her drive and passion for the sport that not everybody seems to understand.
“My bow is my best friend and I have two identical ones just in case one develops a problem during competitions,” she says, as she takes aim, this time with more determination. Increasing her stamina and strength to be able to shoot in adverse weather conditions and still remain on the top of her game is one of the skills she has sought to perfect ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
“I need to increase my mark, considering that world champions are shooting at a 650 mark,” she says, pointing out that she took part in her first competition at 13 years.
“I once took part in a competition involving men and I beat all of them. That was the day I decided that I would do archery for life,” she says.
Paul Ochieng’, the Secretary General of the National Archery Organisation of Kenya, recalls his visit to Morocco with Shehzana for the 2012 Olympics qualifiers, with Shehzana losing narrowly in the semi-finals.
“Shezhana has succeeded owing to her relentless effort. This time round we are ready to put Kenya in the World map of archery,” he says, adding that the game is slowly taking root in the country and more Kenyans are investing in the sport, starting with local universities and at the county level.
Anwar intends to make archery a full-time venture, noting that she puts more time into the sport than in anything else.
“I made the decision after a five-week archery training in Turkey under a professional coach who thoroughly checked my equipment and gave me tips which included new training methods to improve my shooting,” she points out.
After setting up her recurve bow, the only type allowed in the Olympics, safely on its stand, Shehzana brings me up to speed with the costs involved in pursuing archery which makes it unaffordable to most Kenyans.
“It depends on the level of shooting one is doing and the budget. One can buy an affordable full competition set. I saved for two years to buy Hoyt competition set, which is the best in archery. It is the latest model and costs around Sh300,000, but one can get a full kit and a cheaper model for even Sh60,000 which in most instances can’t shoot a distance of 70 metres due to lack of the requisite accessories,” she says.
Shehzana measures her bow’s brace height – the distance between the string and plunger button - and says it has to be the same every single time, and any changes to it can affect the final shot.
Equipment used in archery is measured in millimetres and any difference at the brace can lead to loss of one point at the target, and that can just be the difference between winning and losing.
She releases the arrow and finds the target with a thud.
Again, she draws an arrow and shoots. After several shots, she walks up to the target and takes time to explain the mystery behind the numbers on the target.
“This is a 10X target, and this is a 10,” she says, pointing at the targets. “The former is better than the latter, but they carry the same number of points. This is only for elimination purposes in the event (that) two archers’ points are tied because they have tens. The archer with the most 10Xs wins,” she explains.
“Each concentric ring represents a number and your score points depending on where you hit. This goes up to 0 or a miss where no point is realised. If an archer has a very strong bow and heavy arrows, the wind will have less of an effect on their shot. If they have a lighter bow and lighter arrows, the wind could have a dramatic effect on the trajectory of the arrow.”
At the Africa archery tournament held in Namibia, where men and women’s individual recurve event also served as the African qualifiers for the 2016 Olympic Games, Shehzana’s mastery of wind conditions contributed to her big victory.
She says that depending on the direction the wind is blowing, one can choose to shoot slightly away from the target or against the wind so as to hit the exact point of target. She points out that archery is not an injury-free sport.
Muscle strains are the most common occupational hazards in the sport and she wears a finger tab to protect her hands from blisters.
I notice that the skin on her fingertips is dead, a direct consequence of back-to-back shooting practices. Her armguard protects her forearm from being hit and bruised by the string.
She then explains something about the positioning of the arm and the angle at which the hand is inclined to the bow, which she says serves to ensure that the string doesn’t hit the elbow.
As we wrap up our visit, she gets us to meet some upcoming archers who look up to her and who are slowly gaining experience through apprenticeship.
She insists that the first step to learn the sport is by falling in love with it just like she did.