By Benjamin Custer
Palo Alto Weekly (Published August 2014)
Intensity in his eyes, Alan Eagleton pulled the bowstring to his cheek and focused on a paper target dozens of yards below. Shot after shot, his arrows zipped beneath the tree canopy, consistently landing within a couple of inches of the bull’s-eye. He was just warming up.
An East Palo Alto resident, Eagleton routinely finds himself at Kings Mountain Archers in Woodside, where he often practices for hours. As a competitor, he has enjoyed success on local, national and international levels. Next week, the world champion will compete in Croatia as a member of the U.S. Team at the World Archery Field Championships.
But for Eagleton, archery is more significant than records and titles. Through the sport, he has forged fond family memories.
He was born in Redwood City and raised in Los Banos. A couple of months before graduating from high school, he realized he had no idea what he wanted to do in life. His mother, a teacher with advanced degrees, encouraged him to further his education. His uncle, Tom Daley, offered him a summer job as a plumber while he figured things out.
The day after graduation, Eagleton moved to Redwood City to work for Daley. Before he knew it, a few months stretched into a decade.
Daley also happened to be an accomplished archer with compelling experiences to share. Before long, when the two were not wearing tool belts, they donned arrow quivers.
“After about a year … he set me up with my own equipment, and I started shooting with him,” Eagleton said. “From there, I started shooting tournaments and found I loved shooting paper targets.”
Struck by Cupid’s arrow at 16 and married at 18, Eagleton found archery also served as a bonding experience for him and his wife, Kelly. She picked up the hobby shortly after he did, and the young couple began practicing and competing together.
“She says she does it because she likes to hang out with me,” Eagleton said. “She knows that I love it, so she does it.”
A few years later, the couple started a family. As a father of two boys, neither of whom expressed interest in archery, Eagleton hung up his bow for about a decade and half. Then one day, his youngest son, then 17, asked if they could shoot together.
“He lasted about a year, and I just fell in love with it again,” Eagleton said. “I went from compound bow to barebow. That’s when I really fell in love with archery.”
Several types of bows and styles exist in competitive archery. Compound bows use cables and pulleys, which tend to provide better accuracy, distance and velocity, while barebows have no extraneous equipment, including sights. Though barebow is not an Olympic discipline, Eagleton preferred its purity and found plenty of competition elsewhere.
“It was something instinctive,” he said. “Within six months, I was beating most local people. Within a year, I was competing nationally.”
After netting a number of first-place finishes in local tournaments, Eagleton joined premier organizations such as the National Field Archery Association, USA Archery (part of the World Archery Federation) and the International Bowhunting Organization. Since stepping onto a bigger stage five years ago, Eagleton has accumulated myriad top finishes at both indoor and outdoor events.
Two years ago, he attended world championships in France and Argentina. In France, he placed second in individual and first in team. In Argentina, Eagleton and his wife both took first place. Heading into Croatia, Eagleton expects similar results.
“If I’m shooting the way I am right now, I feel like I could be very competitive,” he said.
Eagleton often shoots his bow before and after work and on the weekends. He sometimes practices at Palomo Archery in Palo Alto, whose indoor facilities are inviting in colder months. But Eagleton prefers to drive to Woodside to get a respite from the bustle of Silicon Valley, which serves as a “battery recharger” for him.
“Because I’m a husband, a father and I have a job, everything is based on how much time I have and being able to share my time with my family,” he said.
In addition to time, archery requires Eagleton to invest significant money in equipment, maintenance and travel. Though sponsors have approached him over the years, he has consistently declined.
“It would be a job at that point,” he said. “I never want to practice because I have to practice. I want to practice because I love to practice.”
While archery can cost hundreds — even thousands — of dollars as one advances in the sport, it is in some ways sustainable. Eagleton said people who shoot guns need to buy new bullets every day, but he can reuse his arrows hundreds of times. He and his wife turn distant tournaments into vacation opportunities.
But for Eagleton, archery is a priceless hobby because it brings generations together.
“I still shoot a lot with my uncle who got me started,” he said. “He’s 72. He’s still one of the best in the country. You can have a 6-year-old and a 72-year-old, which we have all the time because his grandson shoots, shooting right next to each other. To me, that’s just awesome.”