Updated: Dec 30, 2020
I have fond memories of watching my 4 year old son Wyatt stand alongside his seated dad and learning to shoot archery. His father, Dennis, had limited mobility due to health issues but this was a manner in which he could pass his love for hunting on to his son. His thinking was: “I cannot physically take him hunting, but I can give him the tools to go when he is old enough.” Wyatt was taught on an old adjustable children’s compound bow. Dennis taught him to shoot instinctive – so no sight! Wyatt learned to keep both eyes open when focusing on a target. Little did I know how well that metaphor would be a lifeline for Wyatt 3 years in the future.
In March, 2013, our world was shattered when my husband suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage. Wyatt was now 7 and had those archery lessons as close father-son memories. We chose to go to an open to the public shoot at a local archery range exactly one week after Dennis died. We had a very special reason! Wyatt and I needed to have a connection to the three we used to be – even though we knew only two of us were still physically here. I watched my son focus with every arrow that hit the target. I heard words of encouragement from fellow archers we didn’t know. I saw a hint of a smile and his breathing returning to normal. Wyatt was healing through every released arrow. Confidence returned every time his bow was drawn back. I knew right then and there we were on to something unique and needed to continue.
Wyatt attended a grief camp several months later. He was asked what special holiday he would devise to honor his father. Wyatt wanted thousands of archers around the world to slay dragons for dad, raising proceeds for other children who lost parents in the process. Dennis Kauth was one of the original artists for Dungeons & Dragons. Thus the dragons. We have been asked why we would want to ”slay” dragons if Dennis drew them. We love dragons! But in the mind of a seven year old boy, it stomped on his heart and represented death and the many feelings that accompany it. Grief, Sadness, Loneliness, to name a few.
Plus, EVERYBODY HAS A DRAGON TO SLAY. Ours is grief. Your dragon may be depression, PTSD, drug addiction, ALS, deployment, MS, or Parkinson’s. Dragons represent those things in life that hinder us, slow us down – and stand in the way of living a good and full life. We all deserve a happy life. Archery gave us a second chance at that. Other children at camp told Wyatt his idea was just a dream and dreams never come true. We looked at that as a challenge and motivation.
My challenge as parent of a grieving child is twofold: define us in the moment that we are vulnerable, and not let grief consume or swallow us. There is a fair chance almost everyone reading this has lost a significant part of self via the death of another. We feel their lack of presence, miss their smell and voice, and are haunted by the thought we may forget them. My essential mission was to find ways Wyatt would always remember the essence of his father. Archery gave me that outlet. Dennis would tell Wyatt of hunting adventures stories with his dad and Wyatt’s grandfather. They were transported to another place and time. Those memories help Wyatt remember his scent and words and enthusiasm.
Wyatt made us first time dragon slayers on March 8, 2014. This was the one year anniversary of his father’s death. 116 archers turned out, slayed homemade dragon targets drawn by Wyatt’s classmates, and raised $800 for his grief camp in the process. Wyatt was smiling, laughing, playing with friends, and hitting all the targets! He told me every bullseye he hit was because dad was guiding his arrow. I am sure that was the case! Needless to say, Wyatt was exhausted at the end of the day.
I had posted pictures of our first Dragon Shoot and received some 250 messages from all over the world on social media. We started planning for the next year the following day. We realized every arrow shot was impacting the life of another.
In 2015, we raised $2500 for a student with Leukemia at Wyatt’s school. Dragon slayers all over the world participated this time. In 2016, we raised $4500 for the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation. Clubs in other countries raised money for local charities. Tomahawk Archers in Temperance, Michigan hosted the National Shoot in 2017. We raised almost $7000 in two days and split it with 3 families. Recipients were a mother with two small children and a recently diagnosed melanoma, a family who lost their mom to cancer, and two teenage boys that lost both parents to a drunk driver. Tomahawk was the host again in 2018, raising over $2000 in one day for Bedford Vets.
This year, 2019, Tomahawk Archers hosted us for a third time. Totals are not yet in, but I do know it has surpassed last years numbers. Some 150 archers turned out for this one day event. Proceeds will benefit Dylan, a 13 year old fighting cancer. We had texted but never met Dylan or his mom, Nikki, before the day of the shoot. Moms meeting for the first time was extraordinary.
We hugged and cried together and you could have heard a pin drop in the room. There was incredible energy and empathy and mutual respect. Some things are better felt than put into words. This was one of those moments. Wyatt and Dylan hit it off immediately and now have each other’s phone numbers.
There is a healing touch in archery. We have seen it, felt it, and we live it every day. We know the impact one arrow makes with every recipient of Dragon Shoot benefits we meet. Syria sent us a picture in 2016. 10 children were on a bridge in a straight line at full draw. The target was the town below. Their message was this: “Wyatt, we have all lost one or both of our parents to war. We will slay dragons alongside you. We know how much hurt you have. Our dragon is this war. We cried because we knew then we made a difference.
Wyatt realized he wasn’t alone anymore. His message mattered and it helped others. Just like a thousand mile journey begins with one step – it only takes one arrow to impact the world. We are all one with the bow, regardless of nationality, color, or religions. Khalil Gibran, in his book The Prophet, writes: “Your life goes not backwards nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Driving back from Michigan after this year’s Dragon Shoot, Wyatt stated to me:
“Mom, Dylan is my age and I had never met another kid my age that had cancer. He is really brave and cool. He is just like me except for the cancer. That’s a little scary. Will what we did make a difference?”
I asked Wyatt if he had exchanged phone numbers and considered Dylan a new friend. He said yes on both counts. My answers was simple and easy: “Son, you already made a difference, and so did Dylan.”
Wyatt meets new people and makes new friends at every archery shoot we attend. The healing part of archery begins with those archers - the ones who greet us, ask about what we do, and follow Wyatt’s adventures on his page. Oftentimes it is hard to say who is healing who!
Wyatt is not the only person who has been healing. Over the last 6 years I have received a Level 2 Archery Instructor with USA Archery, NASP/BAI Instructor, and S3D Coach. I founded the Dancing Arrow Club which teaches grief therapy through archery. I completed a Music and Sound Certification, Grief Support Specialist Certificate, End of Life Doula Certification, and recently graduated from college with an Associate Degree. Wyatt and I did our first Ted x Talk, have been asked to speak in schools about grief and archery, and are pursuing further school opportunities. I grew as a mom, a woman, and a widow with every course I took, every class I coached, and every arrow I shot. I learned to grow and trust again as a partner to a wonderful man.
The Healing Touch of Archery is neither a secret nor confined to us because of our grief. Many of you reading this have experienced the calmness, security, confidence, and balance that a string and arrow can bring. You are healing when you nock your arrow, raise your bow, and breathe in the shot. You are healing and releasing tensions when you look down the arrow, focus your eyes on the target, and release the string. We all love archery for our individual reasons and shoot for personal satisfaction. The archery community continues to help us heal.
In 6 short years we have had over 8000 archers from 40 states and 68 countries slay dragons and raise money for charities. Archers shoot solo, in small groups, and in clubs. EVERYBODY HAS A DRAGON TO SLAY!
We would like to take moment and say a huge Thank You to everyone who came out to Tomahawk Archers on June 9, 2019 to support Wyatt and Dylan. Thank You to Tomahawk Archers for hosting the World Wide Dragon Shooting Day for the third year in a row. Your hard work and awesome club spirit made for another truly successful event. Thanks to Michigan Longbow Association and Floyd & Caroline Wells for their never ending energy in instructing new archers to the fold. Wyatt’s Dream would have failed long ago but for clubs that believe and communities that support us.
DREAM BIG. SHOOT STRAIGHT. AIM SMALL.
IMPACT THE WORLD ONE ARROW AT A TIME.
Dorothy & Wyatt
World Wide Dragon Shooting Day