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Park High School graduate Nate Jones, 23, is taking up archery training full time in the hope of reaching his lifelong dream of being an archer on the U.S. Olympic team. (Forum News Service photo by Emily Buss)

Training like an Olympian: Cottage Grove's Jones shoots his way to top regional archer

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COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. -- Roughly 22 meters separates Nate Jones’ lightweight carbon arrow and the small, black bullseye on the target down range at High Five Archery in Stillwater. He loads his Win & Win Carbon Recurve Riser, a popular bow among sportsmen, steadies his grip, takes aim and lets it fly.

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“That was a good one,” said Jones, 23, following the hollow thud as the arrow slammed straight into the target’s X.

A seasoned competitive archer with a litany of regional and state titles, including a top 20 finish in a recent national competition, the Park High School grad has begun training full time in the hope of making it to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” said his father, Doug. “There are national competitions, there’s World Cup, there’s different venues. But the Olympics, that would be the top.”

Growing up in Cottage Grove, Nate’s entire family was and continues to be immersed in the world of archery.

A bow was in his hand by the age of 2 and he won his first competition when he was 10. The natural talent, Nate said, was fostered by his father, who is a professional shooter and coach for Junior Olympic Archery Development.

“I love this sport and it’s a good way to stay connected and give back to the archery community,” said Doug, who spends part of his retirement working at High Five Archery and Bait Shop.

As a young competitor coming of age in a sport he said was inclusive and welcoming, Nate made fast friends with local pros. He spent a lot of time mastering his skills at Wolf Track Archery Club in Blaine, his father said. The now-closed range was home to many regional shooters that Nate said would often let him practice on expensive gear.

“They would say, ‘Here’s my bow, here’s some arrows, go try it out,’ ” he said. “They were really instrumental in my training.”

Doug coined those mentors his son’s “archery uncles.”

“It’s just a very friendly, helpful community,” Doug said.

During high school, Nate was active in Boy Scouts and taught archery at annual summer camps. He achieved his Eagle Scout distinction in 2009, the year he graduated from high school. The next few years, he said, were spent training and competing in sporadic competitions.

“I’d find one this weekend, compete in another one the next weekend, shoot down at (Boy Scout) camp,” he said. “(Competition) wasn’t consistent.”

With a desire to one day win a gold medal at the Olympics, Nate decided 2014 would be the year he would focus solely on his archery career.

Shooting for gold

It has always been a lifelong goal for Nate to shoot alongside the world’s best archers as a member of Team USA in the Summer Olympics. His dream was firmly rooted well before he even knew how to write.

In elementary school, Nate’s parents gave him the autobiographical Dr. Seuss book “My Book About Me,” which he filled with facts and figures about his life. However, one page stood out.

“It was a page that asked what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said. “I knew right there that I wanted to be an Olympic archer.”

In March, Nate landed in the national spotlight when he placed in the top 20 archers in a national competition, a feat his father said helped validate his talent.

“It’s a journey of competition and recognition and performance that gets you there,” Doug said. “I know he has the skill, he knows he has it, it’s competitions like this that prove to him that he is as good as he thinks he is.”

But before Nate makes it onto Team USA, he has two full seasons of competition ahead of him, including three national tournaments yet this year -- the Voyager Cup later this month in Anoka, the USA Outdoor Nationals July 23-27 in Hamilton, Ohio, and the all-important USA Team Qualifier Texas Shootout from Sept. 26-28 in College Station, Texas.

To assist him financially with the three tournaments, Nate has started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $4,500, most of which will go toward paying for entry fees, coaching and training.

“The best thing about this sport is it’s a lifetime sport; there’s no timeline on it,” he said. “The community, I find that generally across the board in archery you find good people, good family people. It’s a very welcoming sport and anyone can shoot.

“I’m just pumped to get this season going,” he added. “I’m ready to work.”

To donate to the GoFundMe campaign, visit http://www.gofundme.com/975xu4.

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