A few weeks ago, the Coastal Courier published the story about Long County native Linda Stephens, a 2016 Olympic hopeful in archery.
But there is another Long County girl chasing the same Olympic dream — Stephens’ teammate Cassandra Pelton.
On Saturday, Pelton did an archery demonstration at the YMCA and, despite the slight wind, nearly every arrow hit dead-center.
Pelton is a natural at the sport and it’s no wonder. Her grandfather, Alvy Albert, used to shoot archery using a traditional style bow and even founded a company called Archery Sports League. Pelton’s father, Sgt. Donald Pelton, shoots a compound-style bow and, recently, her little sister Victoria, 12, picked up the sport as well.
Pelton’s father, an active-duty Army soldier with the 233rd Transportation Company on Fort Stewart, moved the family back to Georgia from Germany. Back in the states, Albert stuck a traditional bow in Pelton’s hand and told her to give it a try.
“He was like, ‘Here, shoot this,’ and it was a traditional bow, and I said, ‘OK, this is cool,’ and I started shooting and immediately got hooked,” Pelton said.
Dad and Grandpa served as Pelton’s coaches for a while and she soon gained the Long County 4-H Club’s attention.
“It was in October of 2009 when she met up with the 4-H group out at the Long County Wildlife Festival,” her dad said. “They saw her shoot and they invited her to join the team and that is where she started to get some other formal coaching in the Olympic Recurve-style and it just took off.”
The senior at Long County High School helped the Long County 4-H team win the 2010 Georgia State 4-H Tournament and a bronze at the 4-H National Archery Tournament.
But Pelton and her former Long County High School and 4-H teammate Linda Stephens said their career and Olympic dreams took off when they started training under national archery coach Rodney Estrada about four months ago.
“Before everything was pretty much local,” Pelton said. “I competed a lot in Conyers a couple of times in Gainesville, Fla., and pretty much anywhere around where we lived. Since I started working with coach Estrada I’ve competed in Ohio and Boston and we are about to go to California and to Texas.”
Pelton also jumped in the rankings, making her Olympic dreams an attainable goal.
“That is when…I was competing before but when I started training with him that’s when it became full blown…(The Olympics) this is your track,” she said. “When I started it was a far off goal … and now it’s a legitimate step. It’s something that I can see now so I just need to keep pushing towards it.”
Pelton is currently ranked tenth in the nation by the United States Archery Association, the governing body for the U.S. Olympic Archery Team.
Her upcoming meets in California and Texas could earn her a spot on Team USA.
“It’s not an Olympic qualifier, however you do get noticed by Olympic coaches,” She said. “What I’m trying to do is get on the United States Archery Team and these events are qualifiers for that. You have to maintain a certain score in order to move your ranking up and you want to be in the top five to get on to the United States Archery Team. Once you get on the team, it’s an annual thing, you are there for the year and you have to maintain a decent score in tournaments.”
“It’s mindboggling,” her dad said. “We’ve had so many people tell us she has raw talent but to finally get a national level coach and start pulling that out of her and to see her at some of these national tournaments she’s been to so far is absolutely amazing.”
Pelton said he family has been very supportive and her dad was a great inspiration.
“He is always telling me to keep shooting and my mom (Lynn) is my mental coach,” she said. “She played golf when she was in high school so she knows a lot about the individual mental game and my little sister also shoots compound and it’s been a really good bonding experience for us. We are able to shoot together as a family and it’s been a lot of fun.’
Pelton shoots with a Hoyt Olympic style bow called a Recurve. It is equipped with specialized stabilizers and dampeners that allow her to hit a target from 77 yards away. She said she likes shooting x-10 arrows because they are designed to have a natural spin and fly straight.
Pelton and Stephens said they shoot several times a week and employ aerobic exercises to help them maintain a steady heart rate and breathing technique when shooting at competitions.
Pelton said despite the fact she and Stephens sometimes compete against each other they are great friends.
“Her and I have been saying Rio 2016 since we started on this path and we definitely want to end up on the team together that has been an incredible dream for both of us,” she said. “A lot of times it’s a lot of fun and there are those times when one of us is having a bad day and the other one has to step up as a teammate and say you have to get your head in the right place … and it’s been a great experience. You always have somebody that you are competing with so that when we get to competition it’s not as nerve wracking because you have been competing with her for so many years.
Stephens said it doesn’t matter whether they are competing as teammates or against each other.
“I would love to shoot with her regardless,” Stephens said. “We still have this great relationship and we push each other whether we are at practice or in competition … we are also great friends outside of it. I can’t believe how much better we’ve both gotten in this very short period of time. We weren’t even on the map last year and four months into working with our new coach we are both doing exponentially better. A few more months and who knows what we will be capable of.”