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December 22, 2014

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After conquering Nevada, teen archer targets national championship

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Leila Navidi

Las Vegas Academy student Christiana-Marie Wilburn, 17, stands outside her Las Vegas home on Friday, April 6, 2012 with the bow she won by placing first at the National Archery in the Schools (NASP) Nevada State Tournament in Las Vegas in February. Wilburn will travel to the 2012 NASP Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky to represent Nevada.

Nevada Champion Archer

Las Vegas Academy student Christiana-Marie Wilburn, 17, stands outside her Las Vegas home on Friday, April 6, 2012 with the bow she won by placing first at the National Archery in the Schools (NASP) Nevada State Tournament in Las Vegas in February. Wilburn will travel to the 2012 NASP Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky to represent Nevada. Launch slideshow »

An aluminum arrow whistles past 17-year-old Christiana-Marie Wilburn’s patch of aqua blue bangs that rest neatly on her forehead during a February archery tournament.

Wilburn — who could easily be mistaken for an extra in the movie “The Hunger Games” — is Nevada’s female student archery champion, beating more than 200 competitors for the title and a chance at nationals in May.

“(Archery takes) a lot of concentration — you have to focus on all the parts of your form and aiming perfectly,” said the Las Vegas Academy senior. “If you think of something else, you miss immediately.”

Wilburn has been practicing her form long before seeing or reading “The Hunger Games,” a sci-fi book turned movie that follows teen archer Katniss Everdeen’s story of survival in a deadly fictional tournament.

“I enjoyed the books more because I already knew about archery and how it works,” she said.

Wiburn’s coach, Ken Swierski said he’s seen more moms and daughters pick up bows in recent months.

“What’s really gotten it popular now is one movie — 'Hunger Games,'” he said. “Since the movie came out, they’ve come out of the woodwork.”

The straight-A student who paints and can also speak German and French, picked up a bow and arrow at a Renaissance Festival in Austria while visiting family. She wasn’t great stringing her bow while standing next to a man with puffy shirtsleeves and aged leather boots.

Since then she’s aimed at getting better, even though her mother wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

“She thought, ‘Not another thing that would catch dust,’” said Wilburn, repeating what her mother, Karin, had said to the idea of buying a bow.

Her father, David, thought it was a manly sport and ironically encouraged his daughter by buying her first bow.

“I thought I’d like to get good at it and try it again,” Wilburn said.

For six months before Wilburn’s archery competition she had been practicing her form in an after-school club and at a shooting range three miles from the valley’s northern edge on Decatur Boulevard.

The shy teen doubted whether she’d win gold, but others were certain she would.

“She’s my No. 1 shooter,” said Swierski, an archery instructor at the Clark County Shooting Range. He coaches about 50 students.

“She progressed so fast I was amazed,” he said. “I want her to say, ‘I will win this,’ not ‘I may win this.’”

Wilburn was awarded several plaques and a medal for winning the event. Olympic and professional archers who were at another archery event that week congratulated Wilburn on her accomplishment.

“They kind of inspired me,” said Wilburn, who hoped she might be able to take her hobby to professional heights one day.

Right now Wilburn just hopes to make it to 2012 National Archery in the Schools Program’s Nationals in Louisville, Ky. Though winning the tournament has secured her an invite, she’s actively looking for sponsors since archery is just a club at Las Vegas Academy and not funded like other high school sports around the valley.

She’s also preparing for a tougher bunch of archers in the national championship, especially those hailing from the southern states.

“They all hunt from 5 years old,” said Wilburn, a vegetarian.

Whether it’s being vegetarian, dying just her bangs blue or picking up a bow, Wilburn’s mother knows it’s not just a phase.

“She’s a champion of Nevada, that’s a fact. She is,” said Wilburn’s mother in her rich German accent. “I’m very proud of her.”

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