Laura Hughes of Haw River entered the lion’s den during the 2018 World Field Archery Championships in September.
Hughes, 15, won the silver medal in the junior women’s under-20 recurve division in Cortina, Italy. She lost to host nation favorite Natalia Trunfio, who was applauded by local and vocal fans alike, but not before rallying to an early deficit.
Field competitive archery involves shooting at different sizes of targets, usually in an outdoor woodland setting. Some targets are set at unknown distances and others are at marked distances with targets of different sizes. Competitors shoot uphill and downhill, many of which are steep and technically difficult.
Hughes’ division, Barebow Recurve, does not allow competitors to use sights or stabilizers. In the other two divisions, Pulley and Olympic Recurve Bow, competitors can use sights and stabilizers.
In his gold medal game, Hughes trailed by six points after shooting the first of four targets. After three targets, she had narrowed the gap to four points, then staged a furious and courageous comeback.
The fourth tough target, a 50-meter shot on a 45-degree ski slope in the Italian Alps, has been described by event organizers as the “mother of all targets”. Hughes has shot 2 of 3 arrows for the best score among all divisions up to this point, but lost a point to Trunfio and settled for the silver medal.
“It was the most scary thing I have ever done,” said Hughes. “I had a hard time falling asleep the week before the tournament. I wasn’t intimidated by the fans, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get the gold.
Hughes won a bronze medal as a member of the three-person US junior team.
Competing in the Italian Alps meant cold temperatures, a challenge for Hughes. The ski resort where the gold medal matches were held was used for the 1956 Winter Olympics and can be seen in the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”.
“I have a hard time in the cold,” said Hughes. “I shiver and it doesn’t help when you need to be on the go all the time.”
Laura’s 18-year-old brother Eli Hughes also competed in the world championships. He finished sixth in the compound junior men’s category, losing in the quarter-finals to future gold medalist Timo Bega of Luxembourg.
Eli holds the cadet archery 60-meter world record, which he set in September 2017 at the age of 17. He also holds several national records.
“It was one of those days when it all fell into place,” he said of the world record. “Most of the time it’s a fight, but that day it all went naturally.”
Laura credits Eli with introducing her to competitive archery. Their father, Allen, also shoots, making the sport a family affair. Mom, Margaret, does not shoot arrows, but attends matches and provides moral and logistical support.
Eli joined the Wolf Ridge Archery Club in Efland in 2014. Allen took him to practice and Laura followed him. Bored just watching, the two quickly joined in and started their archery careers. Allen is a training partner, target builder, and designs the backyard yards where his son and daughter train.
“Laura and I shoot the same style, with a barebow, and I can still beat her sometimes,” Allen said.
“We are close in score,” said Laura. “Sometimes I beat him and sometimes he beat me.”
Eli pointed to a striking parallel between his favorite sport and golf. Both are individual sports with no teammates to rely on and both require extreme focus and mental toughness.
“I identify archery with golf because the two are based on the ability to stay together mentally,” he said. “Once you have the archery skills and training it gets more mental. You need to be confident, don’t try too hard, and do what you do in practice.
“My trainer in Georgia runs a camp every six months and a lot of the training is the mental aspect and how to perform under pressure.”