Riku Van Tonder is on his own schedule.
Sure, he shows up to the NFAA Easton Archery Center when he should and toes the line during his scheduled shooting times. But in terms of being a week-long visitor to Yankton, the man from New Zealand is by himself.
Van Tonder is the only participant from New Zealand competing at the World Archery Indoor Championships, which began Thursday at the Easton Yankton Archery Center.
“It’s definitely different,” he said during a practice round Thursday afternoon.
“I’m my coach, my teammates and my support system,” he added with a smile. “It’s just me.”
Oleg Lavrentiev (Belarus) and Luccas Abreu (Brazil) are in the same position as Van Tonder, as the only archers from their respective countries in the field of 31 countries in the tournament.
Belgium, Hungary, Iraq, Luxembourg, Paraguay and Serbia also have one archer each.
In Van Tonder’s case, he was accompanied by a friend when he competed at the Vegas Shoot last week in Las Vegas, but that friend flew home as Van Tonder continued his journey to South Dakota.
And so, while he has been surrounded by countries with many representatives (the United States has the most with 24, followed by Mexico with 20), Van Tonder is alone to wear ‘New Zealand’ on his shirt.
He had a cousin set to arrive in Yankton sometime Thursday. “So I won’t be alone for too much longer,” Van Tonder said, with a smile.
While other countries travel with coaches (some have multiple) and other managers, Van Tonder is on his own as he pursues a gold medal in his compound division.
“It’s nice, because nobody tells you what to do,” he said. “You’re in your own mind. I’ve actually never had a coach, either; someone taught me how to shoot a long time.”
But from 2008-13, Van Tonder — who moved to New Zealand in 2006 from his native South Africa — gave up archery. He had been hunting and doing other activities when his wife suggested that he give archery a second try.
“So the first competition I entered, I won,” Van Tonder said. “I saw that as a sign.”
Two years ago, he secured a sponsorship from Bowtech, an Oregon-based archery supplier. That rejuvenated his passion for wanting to be the best, Van Tonder said.
“Since then, I’ve felt like I should really put more time into this,” he said
At least, when he can. Van Tonder has a wife and two young children, and also works full-time as a contract with traffic control and road maintenance. Archery, he said, is his escape, but his family and work are also ways to escape the mental grind of the sport.
“Sometimes you need a break from the mental part of archery,” Van Tonder said.
This week marks the sixth indoor tournament he’s competed at during his career — “I guess you could say I’ve grown up pretty fast in this,” Van Tonder said with a smile.”
His impressions of Yankton?
“It’s cold, but I love it here,” Van Tonder said. “The people here are really friendly and you can tell they really care about this event.”
He got an up-close look at that friendliness earlier in the week, he said.
Van Tonder visited a local car dealership to look at the trucks — which are called ‘utes’ back home, he joked — and in talking with an employee was offered a ride back to his hotel.
“I could tell they really like people visiting their town,” Van Tonder said.
Belarus: Oleg Lavrentiev
The 36-year-old Lavrentiev is the lone archer from Belarus, an Eastern European country, but as he said Thursday, he doesn’t mind being his country’s lone representative.
Sure, he keeps to himself; with no teammates to interact with, but he certainly makes sure to talk to those around him.
“I love to meet new people,” Lavrentiev said during a practice round Thursday. “I sometimes meet my friends at these other places.”
A relative newcomer in the world of competitive archery, Lavrentiev began shooting internationally in 2010. He said he watched an archery competition near his home town and decided to give the sport a try. And now, “I love it,” he said.
Lavrentiev competed at the Vegas Shoot last weekend and then traveled to Yankton, as did many participants in the Indoor Championships this week. He travels for various tournaments nearly every weekend, he said.
Asked if he has any free time, Lavrentiev said he found some down time when he stayed in New Jersey with friends before he competed in the Lancaster Archery Classic, held each January in Pennsylvania.
Yankton, he said, has the nicest archery facility he’s seen.
“I like it,” Lavrentiev said, while looking around the indoor range. “This place is very comfortable; has good lighting.”
Brazil: Luccas Abreu
Is there any kind of pressure to be the only archer from Brazil?
No, in fact, Lucas Abreu is embracing being the only one.
“It’s important for me,” the 19-year-old from Sao Paulo said during a break in Thursday’s action. “I know everyone back home is cheering for me. I want to do well for them.”
He also traveled to Yankton after competing in the Vegas Shoot last week, but there, he was shooting with four other Brazilians. Abreu is now by himself.
Abreu said he started shooting a bow eight years ago and admits now that archery is his life.
“I finished school and now I have a teacher who comes in to help me, so I can have more time for archery,” he said.
He got his start in archery when he was approached by a coach at a local sports club to give it a try, Abreu said.
“He asked me if I wanted to shoot for a while,” Abreu said. “When I started, I asked myself, ‘Is this is what I want to do?’ And now it’s all I do.”
Three years ago, Abreu traveled to Yankton to compete in the World Archery Youth Championships, a tournament that featured many of the archers in attendance this week.
Of course, that 2015 tournament was held during the summer months.
“When I got here, I didn’t know it was so cold,” Abreu said. “It was the first time I’ve ever seen. In the airport (in Sioux Falls), I had a t-shirt on, so I had to go buy new clothes.”
European Record Set Thursday
During the qualification rounds on Thursday, Netherlands archer Sjef van den Berg set a new European record with a score of 598 out of a possible 600 points. It was a record that had stood for 17 years, according to World Archery officials.
Action continues today (Friday) at 11:15 with second round matches in the four recurve divisions. The tournament is open to the general public for viewing at the NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Center.
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter