Hardy Ward shootswith some of the crookedest fingers and straightest arrows in the world ofarchery. At the age of 19 he already has won two U.S. national championshipsand next week he will try to add a world title to the collection. But whetheror no he succeeds, at the end of the tournament Hardy Ward's fingers willresemble those of a man who has spent a lifetime clutching at needle-sharpstraws.
The index, middleand ring fingers of his right hand will be blistered and swollen like overdonehot dogs from the strain of pulling a bowstring that requires 46 pounds ofpressure. Since he often holds the bowstring for an agonizing 20 or 30 secondsbefore release, after shooting 1,000 arrows in a week he cannot straighten outhis fingers for hours.
In attempts toalleviate the pain and swelling, Ward has soaked his fingers in water, paintedthem with iodine and once, in desperation, even took a pseudo doctor's adviceand slept with his right hand wrapped in bacon. None of the cures has worked,so Ward—trying to forget—sits back, cracks his knuckles and waits for the 1972Olympics, when he hopes to win the first gold medal in archery since the sportwas dropped from competition in 1922.
If Ward does notattain his goal it could be because he has been too successful for his owngood. He has been a winner so often while yet so young that other youngstershave been encouraged to crowd into this neglected sport. The competition hasbecome intense.
"For yearsthere were almost no tournaments, and there were no more than 1,000 targetarchers," says Clayton Shenk, executive secretary of the National ArcheryAssociation. "Now there are 1,000,000 archers in this country." Hardy'ssuccess convinced teen-agers that they could skip intermediate competition forboys 15 through 18 and jump right in against adults. A boy named Dave KeaggyJr. won the adult title in 1963 when he was 16, but a lot of people thought itwas a fluke. Then Hardy came along a few years later and he won at 16, andsuddenly kids everywhere were dropping their baseball bats and buying bows.
Starting withnext week's world championship in Valley Forge, Pa., Ward begins pursuit of oneof the most unique doubles in archery history. First, he will attempt to becomethe youngest ever to win that title, shooting against some 225 archers frommore than 30 nations. Even the Russians are coming. The second of Ward'sobjectives will be to try to become the first modern bowman to win a thirdAmerican adult title. His chance for that will come a week after the world meetand will also be in Valley Forge.
After winning hisfirst championship at 16, Ward finished second at 17 and then returned to hishometown, Mt. Pleasant, Texas, last year once again as the U.S. champion. Mt.Pleasant is a yawn in the middle of the road between Dallas and Texarkana. Itis a town of 14,400 that lazes in the northeast corner of the state on thefringe of the piney-woods region. Little things mean a lot in Mt. Pleasant,primarily because there are no big things to fret about. It is the kind of townwhere folks lament that the local restaurant's turkey dinner now comes from around can and not straight from the barnyard.
Don Ward Sr. is aBoy Scout executive and doubles as the family seamstress. His wife Martha worksa night shift at a munitions factory. Sonja Diane, 18, and Butch, 17, are finetennis players, and 9-year-old Debbie wants to play on the high school footballteam. Donnie, 13, is the Dr. Dolittle of Mt. Pleasant, befriending birds, dogs,cats, squirrels and lizards wherever he goes.
Hardy is a premedstudent at Kilgore Junior College and he has a tough scholastic schedule, buthe still manages to get in four hours of archery practice a day. His only othermajor pastime is a normal one. "You might say," his father says,"that when he gave up Boy Scouting he took up girl scouting."
Hardy Ward is ahandsome young man who would "like for people to think he's a playboy,"says his father. "But he's not." Nonplayboy Hardy has been known tofall sound asleep while out on a date.
In manner, Hardyis reserved, quiet and impeccably polite, given over to "Yes, sir" and"Thank you, ma'am." Archer Jack Hoffarth recalls one night severalyears ago when he and another archer were out for a late stroll after the firstday of a tournament. "We were walking past a playground," he says,"and we heard these noises. I asked who was there, and a voice came back,'It's me, sir, Hardy Ward. I couldn't sleep, so I decided to do someexercises.' I looked more closely and, sure enough, there was Hardy climbingthe monkey bars."
There has been noparental pressure on Hardy to take up the arrow and the bow—no intense coachingstarting at age 3. Hardy did not get interested in archery until he was 5, whenhis parents bought him a $6 bow for his birthday. For the next seven yearsHardy's shooting was restricted to the backyard, where he riddled milk cartonsfilled with sand, and to the woods and fields, where he picked off jackrabbitsdarting through the brush, as well as deer, squirrels, possum and birds.
"We didn'thave any idea how good he was," recalls his father, "so we all piledinto the car and took him to a tournament in Arkansas to find out. It was fieldarchery, where you shoot at targets simulating animals. He had never shot anytargets like this. We promised him a new bow if he shot 400 on the last round.Hardy was only 12, and he hadn't done too well the first day, but one of theolder archers noticed that his arrows were all bent. He straightened them out,and then Hardy went out and shot 518—a junior national field record—the firsttime he ever tried the last course." Before long, Hardy was practicingdaily and traveling from one tournament to another. He won so many first-placetrophies that a corner of the house had to be set aside for them.
Then camedisaster. "I froze," he recalls. "I was 15 and I couldn't shootanymore. It got so bad that I decided to use a clicker on my bow. It was eitherthat or stop shooting." A clicker is a little metal arm through which thearrow is drawn as the archer pulls back the string. It enables him toconcentrate on aiming. A good aim is wasted if the archer cannot always drawthe arrow back, the same distance on each shot. If his draw is merelyone-eighth of an inch longer than usual, he is apt to be several feet out ofthe gold, or bull's-eye, at 90 meters. A clicker permits him to draw backalmost all the way, aim and then, when that last fraction of an inch of thearrow tip slips through the metal arm and causes a clicking sound, he knows itis time to fire.
"Hardy wasthe first to win a national title with a clicker," says Earl Hoyt, owner ofthe Hoyt Archery Company, which makes the bows used by most of the world'sleading marksmen. "The clicker has been the single most important factor inimproved scores and in the retention of archers in the sport. You see, at sometime or other every archer runs into the problem of freezing. He just can'tshoot right, and the harder he tries, the worse he gets. Until Hardypopularized the clicker, freezing was something like a terminaldisease."
Most archers nowuse clickers, including some of the youngsters who are on the U.S. team. Threeof the four members are teen-agers: Ward, 16-year-old Steve Lieberman ofReading, Pa. and 15-year-old John Williams of Cranesville, Pa. The fourth isRay Rogers, 32, of Muskogee, Okla., who in 1967 beat out Ward for the U.S.title and won the world championship.
"I reallywant this world championship," Ward says. "I would have won at 17 ifthey hadn't made a rule change the day before the competition started. All of asudden they decided it was illegal to use peep sights with calibrations ormagnification. It was like learning how to shoot all over again. But Al Mullerfixed them. He showed up with calibrations marked on the lens of one of hiseyeglasses. The officials noticed, and they got all excited. It was all in fun.Al is blind in one eye, and all he had done was to put some meaninglessmarkings on his glasses and he had people hopping up and down all over.
"After thefirst day I was in 27th place. The blisters on my right hand broke—I hadpracticed too much the day before trying to get used to shooting without myregular sight—and each time I shot, the blood flew. By the time I was doneshooting, my white shirt (archers must wear all-white uniforms duringinternational matches) was covered with red. My fingers screamed, but I shot aworld championship one-round-record 1,179 and moved up to second place with twoarrows to go. Then somebody behind me clicked a motorized camera just as I wasgetting ready for my next-to-the-last shot. I thought it was my clicker, and Ilet go too soon and got only a seven. I got a 10 on my last shot, but I lostsecond place by one point. I was really disappointed that I didn't win at 17.If I win at 19, well, I just feel that somebody younger will come along and winsome day. Why not? Kids are doing it in all other sports."
One suchyoungster is Johnny Williams, a high schooler who finished first at the U.S.tryouts in St. Louis and also set world records, shooting 1,242 in a single dayand scoring 320 at 70 meters. As spectacular as Williams was, it was Hardy Wardwho caused even more of a sensation at the trials in June. To be able tocompete for the U.S. in the forthcoming world championship, Hardy had to finishat least fourth. As it turned out, he barely earned the fourth spot on theteam, but he overcame so many misfortunes in doing so that his feats havebecome archery legend.
His woes began aweek before the try-outs when he was playing golf on a pitch-and-putt coursewith his girl. Hardy's father explains what happened this way: "She hit theball over a fence and Hardy tried to show off for her by jumping over thefence, and when he did he sprung his ankle." What he "sprung" wereligaments in his right foot, and the injury hobbled him badly.
Then, too,Hardy's practice time had been seriously curtailed. He had not shot during thefour weeks prior to final exams at school. Even when he returned home it wasdifficult for him to practice. He had a 12-hour-day job and, on top of that,his target range also serves as a baseball field for youngsters in Mt.Pleasant.
With his parents,Hardy rode 650 miles in the family car to St. Louis, where he got in two daysof practice before taking part in the trials. Other archers who saw him agreedthat he was shooting amazingly well and that he would be the man to beat. Buton Ward's final practice shot, his bow cracked.
He rushed toHoyt's factory in nearby Bridgeton, Mo. and got a bow similar to the brokenone. It seemed futile, however, for it takes months for an archer to becomewedded to his bow, to work out the kinks and to tune it delicately to his ownstyle.
The night beforethe tryouts, Hoyt said, "Now we'll find out how great an archer he is.Shooting with a new bow and under the pressure of this competition is going tobe the biggest challenge of his life."
Mrs. Ward wasoptimistic. "When Hardy was 15 he was riding his bicycle when he was hit bya car," she said. "The seat of his bicycle wound up under the car, butHardy was thrown clear. All that happened to him was that he tore his trouserswhen he landed. He always seems to get out of the worst messes in good shape. Ikeep telling him that he has an angel sitting on his shoulder. He'll need thatangel during the next two days."
The next day,however, it seemed as if Lucifer were seated on Ward's shoulder. Trying toadjust to his new bow, he completely missed his target three times, more thanhe usually misses during a full season. When the first day of the two-day trialwas over—international competition for men is held at distances of 90, 70, 50and 30 meters, with 36 arrows being shot from each range—he was tied for 13thplace, 23 points out of the critical fourth spot. At that, he was fortunate,for he caught a seven-point error in his score that would have made his plightworse yet.
Hardy had toreturn to Hoyt's factory to make adjustments on his bow, and the night beforethe final round of the trials he was still practicing at well past 10 o'clock.His mother stood nearby, barefooted. She had taken off her shoes to prop up twoflashlights so that they would shine on the distant target. The beams barelyoutlined the targets and Hardy's hopes seemed as dim as those two faint lightsin the night.
Still, he wasconfident the next morning. He had been shooting since 7:20 a.m., and he felthe was getting sight readings down well. Then, minutes before the finalshoot-off, the string on his bow snapped. For an archer, this is calamitous. Ittakes weeks to become accustomed to a string and to place his nockingpoints—one metal band on which the rear of the arrow rests and another on whichhe lines up the front peep sight.
So there wasHardy, going to the line with a badly swollen ankle, a new bow and a new stringand without any sight readings. It was like telling Paganini to play The Flightof the Bumble Bee with a broomstick and a neighbor's fiddle.
Somehow, Wardshot well from 90 meters (about the length of a football field) and climbedswiftly to seventh place. Thereafter, though, it was slow going. Then tornadosirens were sounded, sudden darkness covered the range and violentthunderstorms swept the area. Returning to the shooting range after the storm,Hardy twisted his bad ankle.
Even so, Hardyinched up in the standings and was fourth when he was finished at 70 meters. Hedropped back to fifth, then rallied during the final rounds at 50 meters andtook third place.
Harry Gilcrest,leader of the men's world championship team in 1967 and again this year, waskneeling behind the firing line watching Hardy. "You still can't tell ifhe'll make the team," Gilcrest said, "but what he has done so farspeaks so loud that you can't add any more. After I heard about his troubles, Ihad almost no hope for him. I just thought things had gone too far."
The final 36arrows were to be shot from 30 meters. When archers move up to a shorterdistance, the scene is akin to a rush-hour mob crossing Times Square. They lugfolding chairs, bows, arrows, sweaters, tackle boxes, soda bottles and theremains of the lunch forward. The crowd, too, surges ahead, and now thespectators stood with their binoculars trained on each arrow.
Thirty meters wasa distance for which Ward had absolutely no sight readings. He would have toshoot strictly from instinct and guesswork. His left hand held the bow rigid ashe drew the bowstring back and rested his right thumb just under his chin, hisswollen fingers throbbing as he aimed and held and then held some more. Hisfirst shot struck gold. Ward put down his bow and sighed. His right hand restedat his side, the three inside fingers trembling and locked in their strangeconcave attitude.
Just when Wardseemed to have assured himself of a berth on the team, up came Steve Wilson,15, of Olney, Ill., drilling shot after shot into the gold. With six shots togo, Ward had a seven-point lead over the fifth-place Wilson, but while Hardywas scoring eights and nines, Steve was getting nines and 10s. No one could besure of the exact standings as the pace quickened. Finally, it came down to thelast arrow. Ward drew back, held his aim, then released too soon.
"Oh, no,"said Earl Hoyt as he put down his field glasses. "He put it in the onering."
With a worried,puzzled look, Ward turned to ask where the arrow had gone. No one told him.Word swept down the line that Wilson, thanks to his own fine comeback andWard's hard-to-believe score on the last arrow, had beaten out Hardy for fourthplace by one point.
Slowly, Hardywalked to the tent at the back of the range where the official scores werebeing tabulated. There at long last came official word that he had finished onepoint ahead of Wilson—2,298 to 2,297.
"I think Isee that angel sitting on your shoulder," Mrs. Ward said to her son.