Lily Wilemski, 11, pulled the string back on her recurve bow, holding it close to her face.
“There are a billion different ways to go wrong,” she said, moving her gloved hand a fraction of an inch in different directions to show just how easy it is to line up incorrectly.
“You can pluck, you can go forward, you can drop your elbow, you can peek, you can drop your bow ... ,” Lily rattled off the potential mistakes as she demonstrated them.
A few minutes later she pulled the string back again, held it and the arrow in place for a few beats as she aimed and let loose. Thwack! The arrow hit the target just a bit off-center of the bull’s eye. A second arrow immediately followed, landing so close to the first, they were touching.
“I’ve been practicing for half an hour,” she said, humbly explaining away her accuracy as she stood in the indoor range at Doc’s Archery in North Tonawanda.
Mom Patty Wilemski shook her head with a laugh.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “She’s always moving up in division. They love her here.”
Lily, a fifth-grader at Thomas Edison Elementary School in the Town of Tonawanda, took up the sport of archery in March after reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins ... three times each book.
“I got interested before ‘The Hunger Games’ (movie) actually came out. I heard of the book but I didn’t know exactly what (Katniss, the heroine) did,” Lily said. “When I read the book I got more interested and I finally said to my parents, ‘I want to try archery.’ ”
“The movie came out after I started practicing and I saw the movie and I was like, ‘Wow, I really like this,’ so I continued with it.”
“The Hunger Games” — the first in a young adult trilogy by Collins, followed by “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” — is about a 16-year-old girl, Katniss Everdeen, who is selected to take part in a post-apocalyptic competition a la “Battle Royale.” Twenty-four boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen at random, thrown into an immense arena, given basic supplies and weapons, and the last man (or woman) standing wins.
Katniss’ weapon of choice? Bow and arrows, of course.
The story is dark, yes, though toned down for younger audiences. School libraries throughout the country have banned the books, and the American Library Association put the series on its list of banned or challenged books in 2011 because some parents question the gravitas and violence of the book.
John Valenti, owner of Valenti’s Archery on Chestnut Ridge Road in Lockport, said that while he disapproves of the movie — “I don’t like the idea of kids killing,” he said — he’s seen an uptick in sales and interest in archery by younger people since the books and first movie became such a hit.
“Sales are up and everybody is excited about it,” Valenti, said. The Hunger Games “turns them on to bow, not for killing people, but for shooting, which isn’t bad.”
Valenti — who met his wife while target practicing — said he’s never before seen such an influence on archery by a pop culture phenomenon like this. Jeff Tippard, owner of Niagara Outdoors on Whitmer Road in North Tonawanda, said the last time he saw such a flurry of interest caused by a movie was when “Deliverance” and “Rambo” came out in 1972 and 1982 respectively.
“Pop culture, Hollywood, it’s all in effect,” Tippard said. “It always triggers sales.”
Tippard said, though, he doesn’t believe The Hunger Games series can alone be credited for the growing interest in archery with girls.
“We’ve had a drive on (getting women interested) for 10 years,” he said. “We have over 20 women that are sponsored in our sport that are professional. They have movie star status ... we put them in the spotlight.”
That, he said, has made the female demographic the largest growing part of participants in the sport.
Meanwhile, Valenti said he’s seen an uptick in sales and interest not just with young girls, but with boys, too. He offers up free lessons to anyone who wants to learn, but stressed that it’s often more work than the youngsters expect.
“Everybody sees these movies and they think they’re just going to grab a bow and shoot 100 percent,” he said.
Lily said she, too, was a little shocked at just how much there was to learn when she first started out.
“It takes patience because if (the arrow) doesn’t go right where you want it you have to check your hand. There are so many mistakes you can make,” she said with a laugh.
Lily usually practices at the indoor range at Doc’s once a week and also attends the weekly group training they offer every Saturday. She’s quickly racking up accomplishments during the sessions, having earned nine awards for shooting successes.
Even though she’s enamored with The Hunger Games mythology, Lily’s not sure that she necessarily views Katniss as a role model. Instead, she points to her teachers like Mark Irlbacher, aka Doc, as being the ones who really have an influence on her.
Irlbacher said he has definitely seen an increase in the number of kids like Lily coming to his store, looking for lessons since the Hunger Games phenomenon, but he’s quick to say he hasn’t had a huge boom in business.
“Participation is up a little bit for this time of year,” he said. “It has brought more kids into archery, which is a good thing.”
Irlbacher said he’s excited by the prospect of what these young people could eventually bring to the sport of archery someday.
“We have some good hopefuls shooting for the Olympics from Western New York ... this will add to that group of youngsters coming up that may someday be Olympic champions,” he said.
Despite his distaste for the tone of The Hunger Games stories, Valenti said he too is glad today’s youth are finding a reason to get interested in archery.
“Anything to get kids off the TV and get out in the public and exercise is always better for everybody,” he said.
For Lily’s part, she said she’d someday like to compete at higher levels and plans to continue to hone her archery skills. She said she’ll be watching the archery events during the summer Olympics and would perhaps someday like to represent her country.
In the meantime, she has the second Hunger Games movie — “Catching Fire” — to look forward to and some practicing of another sort to spend time on.
“I know how to do the Katniss braid,” she said with pride, putting aside her bow to demonstrate how she twists her hair into the heroine’s iconic side braid.
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.