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Prince George teen archer Seth Johnson takes aim at Pan-Am championships in El Salvador

Former motocross racer ditches dirt bike for compound bow as he heads to his first international shoot

After breaking his collarbone for the third time in a dirt bike crash, Seth Johnson started to question how long he wanted to sacrifice his body to be a motocross racer.

Thinking ahead to his working career as house builder, two years ago Johnson retired permanently from motocross racing and took up competitive archery.

It’s a family tradition that dates to Seth’s great-grandfather Bernard Johnson’s time slinging arrows with the Prince George Silvertip Archery Club in the 1960s. It became a multi-generational pursuit passed down to Seth’s father Kurt, and later to his grandfather Glen.

As Canada’s top-ranked U-18 male compound archer, 15-year-old Seth is heading to El Salvador on Saturday for the Youth and Masters Pan Am Championships, May 6-12. He’s one of four Canadians competing in the U-18 category in what will be his first international competition.

“I’m excited, that’s for sure, it should be good,” said Seth. “I’m not expecting too much but at the same time I do expect a lot. I hope to bring a medal back to Canada. I’ve been practicing a lot lately and shooting pretty good.”

In February, at the Silvertip indoor range at the former Austin Road Elementary School, Seth joined the 300 club, scoring a perfect 300 points in a short duration shoot. From 18 metres he put all 30 arrows into the 10-point ring, a target the size of a loonie.

He shot a 702 out of a possible 720 at a flat field event at the Silvertip outdoor range off Highway 16 just east of the city. Hitting the 10 ring is like shooting an apple 50 m away. Each archer on a competition day shoots 36 arrows, six for each end.

Archery is a hugely popular sport in El Salvador. Its capital, San Salvador, which is hosting the Pan Am event, has an Olympic training centre, the site of the competition.

Practice starts on Monday and the meet starts Tuesday. After the individual events the top male and top female in each category will compete for team medals.

Seth topped a list of 48 archers in his category at the Pan American youth selection trials a month ago in Toronto. Canada is sending to El Salvador 27 youth archers, three in the masters shooters and two coaches.

 Seth saw his own potential soon after he started and that made it a relatively easy choice to park his dirt bike. He works 30 hours per week as an apprentice carpenter for Bullseye Construction and two years ago he switched to home schooling to allow more flexibility for work and practicing archery.

The north central Interior has some other excellent young archers to push him in local and regional meets and he looks forward to the challenge of lining up against the likes of Kayden D’entremont of Quesnel, and Prince George archers Mason Pollard and Jacob Nelson.

Seth knows the best in the world go on to compete at the Olympics and can even make a career out of the sport when equipment companies sponsor them as professionals, a growing trend. He wants to see if he has what it takes to make archery his full-time occupation. It’s not uncommon for winners of some of the large events to win $10,000 or $20,000 over the course of a weekend

“I hope to keep shooting bigger shoots and eventually get people to notice me and then eventually go pro.”

Kurt Johnson was a competitive archer with the Silvertip club from the time he was 11 until he hit 19 and moved to Mackenzie to work in a machine shop that he eventually bought. He sold his business in 2017 and moved his family back to Prince George.

Seth and his younger brother Levi were both into hockey but Seth was bitten by the motocross bug when he saw his friends at Prince George Secondary School racing their dirt bikes. For the next three years motocross was his passion but he grew tired of getting hurt.

The Johnsons live on property east of the city at Tabor Lake. One day Kurt got out his bow and set up a target in the back yard and invited Seth to give it a try.

“I could see right away he was a natural. I hardly had to tell him anything and he picked it up, I guess it’s in the genes,” said Kurt.

“He’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders, he’s pretty calm, nothing affects him. It’s hard to tell  if he’s showing emotion or not.”

The ability to tone out all distractions is key in an archery competition and his mental toughness will certainly be put to the test next week on the range, competing against archers as much as two years his senior. To get himself ready for each shot he thinks back to piece of his advice his dad gave him.

“Just think about what you’re supposed to be doing and don’t let the idea of a big shoot interfere with your shooting,” he said. “I don’t get nervous a lot of the time and that’s a big help. I might get  nervous at the start and after a couple arrows it just goes away.”