For years, archery has been a part of Westminster resident Vicki Clem's life.
But Clem, 71, who taught French in the Howard County public school system for 39 years, got started back in 1981, in a somewhat back-handed way — she simply got tired of watching other people compete on the archery range.
"My son and ex-husband had gotten into archery, and I used to take my son up to the Mayberry Archers, here in Westminster, to compete," said Clem, whose son, Tony, now lives in Colorado and competes in professional archery competitions. Her ex-husband, Dave, has been a national champion more than 20 times.
"But archery is a rather boring sport to just sit and watch," said Clem. "So I finally decided I wanted to play, too. So I got a bow and went to beginners' classes at the club and started shooting, and we started doing archery as a family.
These days Clem is president of Mayberry Archers, which was founded as an archery club back in the 1950s. The club, headquartered north of Route 140 and west of the City of Westminster, includes an indoor and outdoor range and offers classes and events for enthusiasts of all ages.
According to the Mayberry Archers' website, the club charges a fee of $45 per student for classes to help cover operating costs of the club and equipment maintenance, but all equipment — including bows and arrows — can be provided by the club if beginners don't have their own. Classes teach shooting technique, with an emphasis on safety.
Clem calls archery, "a fantastic sport for families, because there is a class or division for everybody, and you only compete against people who are in your age group and shoot in your style."
"All my children shot, and now all my grandchildren shoot," she said.
As for herself, Clem competes in a field archery division called free-style, in which you are permitted have a scope on the bow as well as a release mechanism.
She had shoulder surgery in January, so up until Sept. 30 — at the Maryland Senior Olympics archery competition held in Parkton, the former national champion hadn't competed for a year and a half. But she was motivated to give it a try.
"Every other year they have Senior Olympics nationals, and in order to participate in those you must qualify during the preceding year," she said. "So if I hadn't competed in this year's Maryland Senior Olympics, I wouldn't be able to compete in the nationals, which will be held in Cleveland next year."
Clem holds two state records in Maryland Senior Olympics competitions, and in 2010 won gold in her division for compound bow competition.
"I love competing at that level. It's awesome," she said. "I've competed nationally three times in the past. In 1999, it was at Disney World, and I placed third. Then in more recent years, I took first place at the nationals in Virginia Beach and Louisville, Ky."
Still, Clem insists the thrill of competing means more to her than winning.
"I'm not really that good," she said with a shrug. "I mean, there are so many people who are better than I am, believe me."
The Mayberry Archers club is located at 2555 Mayberry Road, Westminster. The club offers beginners classes in the fall and winter, and also field, indoor and "3D" archery events. For details on events and offerings, go to mayberryarchers.org, email Vclem@comcast.net or call 410-218-8622.