Matilda waltzes to new targets on the range
In theory, Donington youngster Matilda Craven (9) is too young to watch The Hunger Games trilogy created by American author Suzanne Collins.
But in sporting terms at least, the North End Archers prodigy could well be on course to become archery’s version of The Hunger Games’ heroine Katniss Everdeen, as portrayed by Oscar-winning American actress Jennifer Lawrence.
Matilda’s astonishing feat of becoming Britain’s youngest-ever Junior Master Bowman, at the age of eight years and 147 days, happened less than two years after picking up a bow and arrow for the very first time.
Hazel Craven, Matilda’s mum, said: “We’d never had anything to do with archery and knew nothing about the sport.
“But Matilda’s coach Terry Ducker asked us if we wanted him to do a 12-week introductory course with her, not thinking she’d be able to do it.
“Matilda used a compound bow with all these different cables and pulleys which, even though it was quite complicated, she did the beginners’ course with and which proved to be so much more accurate.”
Matilda, a pupil at Witham Hall School near Bourne, said: “I went to a school fete and Terry was there with an archery stand where we could pop some balloons as a target.
“Because I listened to what Terry said and didn’t give up, my mum and dad got me some archery lessons for my eighth birthday when I was still a pupil at Bicker Preparatory School.
“Then Terry asked me to come to North End Archers Club in Swineshead where I was trying to get the best score I could.
“The one thing I remember Terry said to me was ‘every arrow is a new arrow so you get a fresh start each time you have a go’.
“Terry also told me ‘if you have a bad arrow, just put it behind you and get on with it because those archers who do that are the ones who succeed’.”
Matilda was entered in her first competition at the Friskney Bowmen club in May 2014 and managed to hit six gold zone targets, earning her a much sought after Six Gold End Junior badge.
Peter Craven, Matilda’s dad, said: “The set-up was for her to shoot six arrows at a time and if she got all six in the gold zone or centre of the target, she would get a badge.
“Matilda got it on her first shoot and that’s when Terry must have seen something which made him say that he would get her into the Junior National Outdoor Championships just two months later.”
At her first national competition in Shropshire held in July 2014, Matilda came third in the under-12 Junior Ladies Compound competition where the two girls ahead of her were both 11.
Matilda said: “It was very scary going to the Nationals and it just felt really big.
“Because it was a two-day competition, we stayed at a hotel and there was a tent where the competition was held which we went in to have lunch.”
Peter added: “I remember driving up to Lilleshall National Sports Centre, where the championships were held, and seeing the targets.
“Up to that point, Matilda had been used to shooting on a range with 10 to 15 targets or 20 targets when she was at the Silver Spoon Bowmen Club in Spalding.
“But at Lilleshall there were 70 targets and we’d never seen anything like it before.
“Thankfully, all the other children were very friendly and welcoming and Terry had written down a list of instructions which Matilda had to read before shooting.”
Terry has been a continued presence and mentor for Matilda as her scores have improved and as the trophies have started to mount up.
Peter said: “On the first morning of her shoot, all Matilda’s bows and arrows were damp and the flights were coming off the arrows.
“But while myself and Hazel were panicking, Terry repaired them all and kept Matilda calm so that she went out and shot really well.
“The girl who won it (Nottinghamshire archer Jenny Bryan) came and over and told Matilda ‘you’ll win it next year’.”
Matilda’s next experience of archery on a national stage came at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena in December 2014 when the National Indoor Championships proved to be very much a case of David versus Goliath.
“It was really hard because there were hundreds of people in a very confined space and you couldn’t breathe,” Matilda said.
“There was double the amount of pressure of an outdoor competition and it was nerve-wracking to have everyone crowding around me.
“But I had to block out everyone else, even when I could hear them talking.”
Matilda finished fifth at Coventry, but 2014 was to end in record-breaking fashion when she discovered that her scores over the year were enough to qualify as a Junior Master Bowman, the highest award possible for a young archer in the UK.
“I didn’t really get what being a Junior Master Bowman was and I just enjoyed the shooting part of archery,” Matilda said.
But as Junior Master Bowman status came just six months after first taking up the sport, it is perhaps better for Matilda’s coach to put the achievement into perspective.
Terry said: “After first meeting Matilda at Bicker Preparatory School’s summer fete in May 2014, I could see that she took to shooting so easily and thrived on the training schedule that I gave her.
“In competitions, Matilda was a little nervous to start with but both myself and the rest of North End Archers’ members were there with her and, last year, she became the national junior outdoor and indoor champion at under-12 level.”
Matilda’s double success in Shropshire and Warwickshire respectively, emulating the feat of Spalding’s Abbie Spinks (17) who collected a national indoor/outdoor double twice in 2010 and 2011.
Terry said: “Matilda works hard but continues to have fun while doing it and she is a total joy to coach.
“Her parents should know that Matilda is the type of person that comes along every now and then who makes progress so easily and shows great potential in archery, soaking up all the hard work that it takes to be a champion.”
Matilda’s success has also brought pride to Witham Hall School and headmaster Charles Welch said: “The place of sport in our pupils’ lives and where it can take them is, I think, incredibly important in their education.
“In Matilda’s case, the confidence she takes from her archery is readily brought back into our school and it’s lovely to have someone of that talent and ability within our pupil body.”
Terry added: “I am so proud of what Matilda has achieved in such a short space of time, including the achievement of being the youngest and fastest Junior Master Bowman award winner in Great Britain.
“But Matilda is also determined to improve which is a testament of her ability and effort, as well as her physical and mental strengths.
“I would like to see this little girl progress further as she gets older because the sky really is the limit for Matilda.”