The first time Jackie Cogan picked up an archery bow was in high school. That was also the last time she picked up an archery bow, until about a year ago.

Cogan, 54, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., had kind of liked that little taste of archery years ago, but as a kid she didn't pursue it. Then last March, she heard about a program of outdoors classes called Becoming an Outdoors Woman, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, that included archery lessons. Cogan enrolled, talking her daughter, now 28, into joining her.

"We just had a blast," she said.

It was so much fun she kept at it. For Mother's Day last year, her husband and four children surprised her with a bow of her own.

Last summer, she attended the archery competition in the Minnesota Senior Games – not as a competitor, but as a volunteer. She was impressed by the athletes, by their concentration and equipment. She also thought it looked like a lot of fun.

When she learned that South Dakota's Senior Games were coming up in September, she signed up to compete in archery and the bean-bag toss. (When she was a kid, her dad had made a bean-bag set for the family, so she grew up playing it; now that her father is deceased, the sport has sentimental value as well.)

"I really didn't have any experience in archery or competition, but I thought, I'm going to just go for it."

She had three weeks to practice, fitting it in around her work in community education for the Pequot Lakes School District, before heading to South Dakota. Her husband and three of her kids joined her, making a camping trip out of it.

She was nervous when she got there. It was her first competition. She hadn't practiced long. Many of the other athletes used fancy, expensive bows. But when her turns came up, the support from her family boosted her confidence

"Every time I got done with my round of four shots, I'd turn around and they'd be smiling and thumbs up," she said. "I'm used to watching my kids do their things and smiling and cheering and waving my arms, and that's exactly what they were doing for me. I felt young and vibrant again."

Perhaps that support was a good-luck charm. Despite feeling like an underdog, Cogan won a silver medal in the bean-bag toss and a gold medal in archery.

Her success at the state level qualified her to enter the National Senior Games. Now she's back to feeling like an underdog as she looks ahead to joining thousands of experienced athletes in the Twin Cities July 3-16.

"I know my chances of winning are very slim. I'll be very nervous, probably, and lacking in confidence and practice time," Cogan said. "But just being able to attend and compete and experience that thrill, that's good enough for me." □