It began in the back yard, with a little girl tagging along after her dad.
Tom Claps was a bow hunter, so of course his young daughter Eliana Claps wanted to be a bow hunter, too. They would sometimes practice together, with Tom using his regulation bow and Eliana using a small child’s stick bow purchased from Wal-Mart.
That was seven years ago, and from that modest introduction to the sport Eliana Claps of Everett — today a home-schooled ninth-grader of 14 — has emerged as one of the top young female archery athletes in the United States. She is good enough, in fact, to have earned a place on the U.S. team headed to the World Archery Youth Championships, Oct. 13-20, in Wuxi, China.
Claps will be one of 24 American archers in the junior (18-20) and cadet (15-17) age groups competing in recurve and compound, and the youngest of 12 females. Athletes are allowed to compete in older age groups, and Claps moved up to the cadet age group this year for a chance to be on the world team.
She will compete in China in recurve, where she is the top-ranked American cadet girl for 2014 based on her accomplishments in 2013.
Going to China, she said, “is like a stepping stone to my greater goal, which is to be an Olympian. I want to be the one shooting for the USA and winning the gold medal. That’s my ultimate goal in archery.”
Claps earned a place on the U.S. team in late June at an event at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. Approximately 70 shooters competed for two days of ranking and elimination rounds in both recurve and compound, with the top eight advancing to a round-robin competition in a bid for three spots on the U.S. team.
“I was nervous,” Claps said. Shooting for a spot on a U.S. national team “was something that was totally new and it was very nerve-wracking for me. Throughout the day I had highs and lows of when I was feeling confident and when I was nervous.”
She was unsure how she was doing during the round-robin competition, but near the end “my coach came up and said, ‘Hey, I think you made the world team.’ I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe I did this.’ I had my sunglasses on and I could feel a tear coming down. … I was very overcome with emotion.”
It was much the same for her dad, who was there cheering her on.
“For someone to compete at that level for the first time and to perform that well while shooting up (an age group), it was an incredible accomplishment. I’m just really proud of her,” said Tom Claps, who has another daughter, 12-year-old Alexa, and a son, Jadon, who is 10, who are also aspiring archers.
Eliana Caps trains at the Kenmore Shooting Range with noted archery coach Mike Wichser of Monroe. She practices five days a week, working to perfect a skill that requires a good bit of physical talent, but an even greater mental prowess.
“Mental is the biggest part,” she said. “The physical stuff is a small part, because once you get that down it’s all mental. You can have the best shot in the world, but if you have a poor mental game, you’re not going to win anything.”
Wichser, who has spent years coaching top young archers, agrees.
“Once she gets a shot down as far as technically being able to produce that shot, it becomes a mental game almost totally,” he said. “And that’s where she’s really excelled. … She’s very mature for her age and for what she’s doing. She’s shooting against 17-year-olds, and as a 14-year-old she’s showing them who she is.”
Claps likely will compete at the 2016 Olympic Trials for a chance to be on the U.S. team at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. She will be 17 by then, which is young for an Olympic archer, but she will almost certainly be in the running.
“I don’t know how she’ll perform in China,” Wichser said. “She’ll be shooting against 17-year-olds, and they may be a little bit higher up the ladder than she is at this point. But give her another three years and they may not be.
“She has the ability to maybe be an Olympian in the next Olympics or the one after,” he added. “She has that mentality about her. She has a competitiveness that if wants something bad enough, she does what she needs to do to get it.”
In China, Claps will have a chance to wear a United States uniform for the first time — it is a red shirt that says USA with a small flag insignia, and then her name on the back — and it will be an opportunity “to shoot for my country, which is very, very cool to think about.”
It will, of course, be an experience she hopes to repeat in 2016.
Being an Olympian and perhaps being on the medals podium, “is something that I dream about and want very much to happen,” she said. “And things like going to China will help me prepare for that. Because it’s all working up for one big goal, which is to be an Olympian.”