Baranek: Crete’s Wifler takes aim at 2016 Olympics berth
Tony Baranek email@example.com | (708) 633-5947 May 3, 2012 8:18PM
Alex Wifler, of Crete, shoots at the Gator Cup. | Supplied photo
Behind every good archer is a teacher. Mike Szanfranowski was Alex Wifler’s first coach, and he remains his No. 1 source for expert advice.
“If it wasn’t for Mike we wouldn’t be doing this,” Wifler’s mom, Chris, said. “Alex and him are best friends. Mike is Alex’s first phone call. It doesn’t matter wherever we are, anywhere in the world. After a tournament he’s his first phone call. Mike is pretty fabulous.”
Updated: June 5, 2012 11:38AM
Like most children, Alex Wifler explored a lot of sports, including Little League baseball. But he also tried one that most don’t: archery.
Guess which one stuck?
Yeah, I know. Bad pun. But it’s true.
“It was just that one sport that I was really, ‘Wow. I can do this,’ about,” Wifler said. “It was something I wanted to do every day.”
And that’s just what he’s done, for the past six years.
Wifler is using his bow and arrow to chase a dream.
He’ll be watching on the tube this summer when the U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic archery teams compete in London. But don’t bet against him in 2016. He’s on a pretty fast track.
On April 21, the 18-year-old Crete resident scored the biggest win of his career, capturing his first senior title at the Easton Foundations Gator Cup in Newberry, Fla.
Wifler beat 26-year-old Canadian Olympian Crispin Duenas in his final match. Earlier in the tournament he topped Californian Matthew Zumbo head to head and finished ahead of Richard Johnson and Daniel McLaughlin. All three had finished in the top 16, and well ahead of him at the USA Olympic Team Trials in the fall.
“It was more fun than anything else,” Wifler said. “It was a fun day.”
Most days are, he said, when it comes to archery.
The dream began in a back yard in Wisconsin, where his cousins, enthusiastic bow hunters, were practicing their skills.
“They were just shooting bows in the back and I was kind of like, ‘Wow. That’s one the coolest things I’ve seen. This is something I can do,’” Wifler said. “That was really about it. I just looked into getting a bow, and started shooting.”
Wifler received a compound bow from his parents as a birthday present and began taking lessons from Mike Szanfranowski, proprietor of On Target Archery and Outfitters in Steger.
“Alex, he just had a natural talent for it from the beginning,” his mother, Chris said. “Nine months after he took up the bow he took third in the nation for indoor in the 12-and-under competition. A lot of the kids he competed against had been doing it for five or six years.”
Thus began a journey that has taken Wifler to competitions across the U.S., Germany and Poland.
In 2010, he switched from a compound bow to a recurve, which is the bow used in the Olympics. That October, he and his mother went to Korea, where he had six weeks of training after an invite from Korea’s Olympic archery coach.
In June 2011, he was second at the World Archery Youth Championships team trials in Sacramento, Calif., and became a member of the U.S. Junior World team. But Wifler still was one of the most inexperienced competitors at the first round of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, from which the top 16 finishers would advance. Wifler finished 35th.
“Honestly, I shot as well as I could at that time,” he said. “It was definitely disappointing, of course, because you always want to do better than anybody else. But it was a learning experience.
“I mean, 2016 was still the goal, ’12 would have been a bonus,” he said.
So what makes a good archer?
“I would say being able to stand still and do the exact same thing over and over again,” Wifler said. “That’s basically what archery is.
“Other than that I’d say it’s 98 percent mental. You have to have a really strong mental routine.”
Doing the same thing over and over sounds simple. But try doing it while holding a 10-pound bow, exerting about 40 pounds of pressure to pull a string back and hitting a target 77 yards away.
Oh, I forgot. Those arrows travel fast, in the neighborhood of 150 mph.
“I don’t know if it’s something the average person can do, just pick up one and start shooting at Olympic level,” Wifler said. “But it is something anybody can do.”
If they work at it — and few work at their “hobby” as passionately and meticulously as Wifler.
He practices six days a week in the back yard of the family’s 40-acre property in Crete, or at On Target, where he also gives lessons once per week.
His latest conquest, the Gator Cup, is one of six United States Archery Team tournaments on his 2012 schedule. Many backyard sessions lie ahead during this dream.
There are no doubts, though, where those sessions will end in 2016.
“I think to doubt is too limiting,” Wifler said. “There is no place for it. You’ve just got to go for it.”