CHAPEL HILL — Christine Harrelson stood in the middle of her new living room and drew the bow her husband, Chad, had bought earlier that day.
It was the first bow she had ever drawn.
She pointed it out the window and fired. From about 20 yards away, she hit and killed a raccoon that had been raiding the family’s chickens.
“We brought the hens into town, and the first night a chicken got killed,” Harrelson said. “A raccoon dragged it off. Second night, another chicken gets dragged off and killed, and then I said that was it.”
That was July 2012.
By February, Harrelson was competing in the Indoor Archery World Cup Finals.
Her equipment has changed dramatically since last summer. Instead of the youth bow she found on Craigslist, she’s shooting a compound bow from one of her sponsors, PSE. Compound bows use a system of pulleys to bend the limbs for a shot. Her arrows and the stabilizer on her bow are also complimentary of her sponsors.
She traveled to France in January for the second stage of the World Cup, and though she didn’t win, she gained valuable experience. As the only American in the second stage, when she went out to Las Vegas for the third and final stage she was the only American eligible for the finals.
The Indoor World Cup is a three-stage open tournament, with each stage taking place in a different country. In each stage, competitors shoot 60 times in the qualifying round and the top-64 competitors compete head-to-head to determine the top-finishers. To be eligible for the finals, a competitor has to finish in the top-16 in two stages.
‘Maybe you should compete’
Though her new career is developing quickly, it started as just friendly competition. Harrelson wanted to outshoot her husband in the backyard, which she did almost immediately.
Then she wanted to keep going.
“I just realized that I was pretty good at it starting out, and it was just a lot of fun,” she said. “So we kept at it, and (Chad) was like, ‘Maybe you should compete; we should look into competitions.”
After some more Internet research and YouTube videos, she started entering tournaments. By year’s end she had won a West Virginia State International Bowhunting Association Championship and was finishing in the top 3 – every time out.
And with a little help from N.C. Hunter Supply in Raleigh, nearly all of the companies whose equipment she was using wanted to sponsor her. Hunter Supply lets Harrelson use their indoor range for free. Through the winter, in preparation for the indoor season, Harrelson practiced at least five hours a day Monday through Friday.
Owner Justin Rogers said no one used the range as often.
“You get some people that are pretty natural shooters, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with quite the determination and work ethic that she’s got,” he said.
Indoor competitions consist of shooting 30 times from the same spot about 20 yards from the target. But Harrelson prefers outdoor 3D competitions, where archers shoot at animal-shaped targets. Each has a set of rings on it, the smallest worth the most points. The difficulty in these competitions, she said, lies in judging how far away each target is.
Much of archery is mental – that’s where husband Chad comes in. He calls himself her coach, and though he admits he knows little about archery, he uses his experience as a third-degree black belt in karate who once competed nationally to help prepare her for competitions.
‘A full-time job’
He’s also the head of her marketing team and caretaker of their five children when she’s travelling, though he usually goes with her.
“She treats it like a full-time job, and it is now,” he said. “It’s incredible. You should see the look on the other competitors she’s competing against – and she’s been competing for less than nine months.”
He helped set her up with some of the nation’s best archers, Reo Wilde and Christy Collin, who shared their tips.
“If you want to be the best, you might as well be trained by the best,” Christine Harrelson said.
And she makes it clear, that even in her young career as a professional archer, she wants to be the best. “My goal is to be the best female compound archer in the world. Period,” she said. “So I want to just dominate in all of the events. And that’s going to take time, but that’s the goal.
The effort she’s put in is paying dividends. If the past is any predictor, she’s going to have to make room for more hardware in that new living room’s trophy case.