Like any dedicated athlete, Lonnie Nicholas practices his passion, tirelessly working out the flaws.
Except the 47-year-old Warrenton native isn’t shooting a ball or wearing out the putting green. Arrow after arrow, he draws back his bow, releasing in what has become a standard motion.
Nicholas has mastered the sport of archery and is preparing to bring home his third consecutive Missouri shooter of the year award from the state championships in Hermann this weekend. He has even established his name on a national level.
“I really like the competitiveness of it,” said Nicholas. “I’ve always been very competitive at anything I’ve gotten into.”
Few are fortunate enough to turn their hobby into financial gain, but Nicholas has reached that point. In just his third year on the competitive circuit, he has climbed to a seventh-place ranking in the nation.
“I figure if I can win enough money to pay for my trip, I’m happy with that,” said Nicholas. “In tournaments where I place really high, I make a little more than my expenses.”
Nicholas has advanced to the Known 45 class, which means shooting targets reaching a maximum of 45 yards. He is just a few steps away from being considered a semi-professional.
“I’m think I’m capable (of becoming a semi-pro), but I think it’s all about the setup now — finding out what equipment really works for me,” said Nicholas.
There was a time when Nicholas shot 1,000 arrows a day, striving to make the transition from a hunter to a novice competitor.
“That was probably the foundation of what I do now, of making yourself do the same thing every time,” said Nicholas. “But I’m still learning a lot too.”
But he was forced to put away his bow for 15 years as family took priority in his life.
Nicholas spent much of the past decade at baseball and softball games supporting his children. Three years ago, when life began to slow down again, he revived his passion for archery.
Nicholas will close out his competitive season at the beginning of August, traveling to Alabama for the last of seven national events.
“I’m within reach of getting back into the Top 5,” said Nicholas. “My first year I took eighth as a novice and last year I finished 11th. My goal is to stay Top 10 in the nation.”
He is already anticipating a jump to the next division after maxing out his earnings in his current Open B division. Nicholas’ best finish this season was a second-place showing in the Georgia tournament.
Aside from equipment, Nicholas says accuracy depends on an archer’s ability to gauge yardage and adapt.
“The week of a tournament I’ll walk out into woods with my range finder, try to judge the distances from tree to tree and then check it to see how accurate I am,” said Nicholas. “Those instincts are important in helping you improve.”
Nicholas’ involvement in archery reaches beyond the competitive circuit. He is currently the Missouri state director for the Archery Shooters Association and also takes time to shoot recreationally with his wife.
“It gives us something enjoy together in the evenings,” said Nicholas. “She’s been shooting pretty well.”
The expenses of competing on an elite level can be hindering unless one is talented enough to garner sponsorships, as Nicholas has managed to do. He estimates his bow and its accompanying parts cost around $1,500, and the travel expenses can mount quickly.
“The higher of class you reach, the better your sponsorship becomes,” explained Nicholas.
By pairing up with Summit Archery in Gray Summit, Nicholas receives free bow repair and discounted equipment. He is also sponsored by Axcel sights, Carter releases, Victory arrows and Bohning X vanes.