By JUDITH O. ETZEL | The (Oil City) Derrick and The News-Herald
SENECA, Pa. (AP) — Pulling back slow and steady on her pink 20-pound compound bow, Alexis Dehner rips an arrow straight to the center of her 3-D target.
She does it again and again and then once more.
Lowering her bow, the trophy-winning archer flashes a smile and confidently reaches into her quiver for another arrow that will invariably strike dead center again.
Alexis, winner of medals and trophies and a top-ranked bowman whose talent has been described in flowing terms by professional adult archers, is eight years old.
"My PaPa gave me a bow when I was four or five," said the diminutive shooter, a second grader at Cranberry Elementary School. "He taught me how to shoot and I really like doing it."
The bow bestower was Fertigs resident Tom Prody, an archery enthusiast who Alexis quickly described as "really, really good."
Alexis is the daughter of Greg and Tara Dehner of Seneca and the granddaughter of Tom and Julie Prody and Daryl and Sandi Dehner of Seneca.
"We shoot, too, but Alexis just whoops us and that's embarrassing," said her mother, adding that although the movie "Hunger Games" about a young female archer has stirred girls' interest in the sport, that isn't the case for Alexis "because we think she is a little young for that movie."
A repeat champion
While Alexis has a keen affinity for the bow and arrow, she also has incredible talent as an archer. In her past 12 archery contests, she has finished in first place in all but one of them.
The competition has included both large and small fields of young contestants who shoot at both traditional bull's-eye targets and 3-D targets.
"I lost one. I'm really just doing it for fun. But, I wish I had won all of them," said Alexis. "There will be more, though."
The youngster practices every day in a target range set up in the basement of her home. Other practice sessions are held at Archery World on Route 157.
At the age of six, Alexis won her first competition at an International Bowhunting Association match in Fairview. In addition to local contests, she has also taken top honors at matches in Seven Springs, Erie, Warren, Butler and the Rainbow Sportsmen's Club.
Archery equipment companies have come calling, and she has been featured in Shrewd Archery and Copper John Archery publications.
Growing into a second and slightly larger bow, Alexis handed down her original bow to her three-year-old sister, Chelsea.
"My parents have to help her hold it but she can use it," said Alexis.
Such diligence to her sport has not distracted Alexis from other pursuits.
"My grades are good — I get all A's and O's," she said. "And my friends and my teacher know I shoot and they think it is just awesome."
As a member of the Lutheran Youth Organization at Good Hope Lutheran Church in Oil City, Alexis so impressed youth director Susie Hlawati that she asked the youngster to show off her skills to her peers.
"Alexis is amazing and she's just such a sweet girl," said Hlawati. "And our youth group thinks she's pretty impressive with the bow."
In the spirit of sharing, Alexis intends to teach the sport.
"I'm having fun doing this and I want to give lessons," she said. "I think it's a good thing to know how to do."
A love of dogs
Alexis is tapping into another talent in an effort to help homeless dogs. Last year, the family terrier-mixed dog, Cupcake, adopted from the Venango County Humane Society shelter, died at the age of 13. Recently, the family adopted another pet.
"I picked her — she's a brown-and-white and six-month-old pit bull from an animal shelter. Her name is Bella," said Alexis. "I really want all animals to have a home and so I wanted to help those places."
Her help is in the form of a craft. She fashions colorful rubber band bracelets, turning out about 10 a week, and sells them for $2 each at Archery World and the Good Hope Lutheran youth group.
In February, proceeds of about $300 to date — all smooshed into a glass jar labeled "God loves a cheerful giver" from Corinthians — will be donated to the Sharon Club Pet, a no-kill pet shelter.
Alexis is teaching her church youth group to make the bracelets and those will be given to Dr. David Wagner of Seneca to take with him on a mission trip, Through God's Eyes, next month to Haiti.
There's a longer campaign, too.
"We're going to do DukeFest to raise money," said Alexis, referring to the annual benefit dog walk in Franklin. "Maybe it will help to make other people care, too."