Vegas fairytale in the making for British 16-year-old Healey

Penny Healey at the 2022 Indoor Archery World Series Finals.

World Archery hears from all four champions of this year’s Indoor Archery World Series, which concluded at the weekend in Las Vegas. In this first part, we speak to recurve women’s winner Penny Healey.

What were you doing in 2013? Can you even remember?

For the winner of the recurve women’s event at this year’s Indoor Archery World Series Finals, it sounds like something out of a fairytale.

“I was around eight years old and tried out archery for the first time at a ‘have-a-go’ session in a castle,” said the British 16-year-old. “I instantly fell in love with it.”

In fact, there was a fairytale involved – an animated movie very much familiar with some of the archery community.

“I used to do horseriding but one day I watched the film Brave, which made me want to try out archery,” said Healey, who is currently ranked just number 269 in the world. “It all went from there.”

Merida. Fairytales. Castles. Disney and Pixar films. What else do you need to get inspired?

Fast-forward to September 2021 and Healey finishes 33rd at the Hyundai World Archery Championships in Yankton.

“She had a really fantastic back half of 2021,” said British archer and compound coach Jon Nott, who was on co-commentary duties for the event in Las Vegas at the weekend. “She took her opportunity at Yankton and showed great promise.”

She delivered on that promise on Saturday night in the Nevada desert.

Healey shot a 582 qualification to enter the matchplay as the fourth seed but was drawn against national teammate and Tokyo 2020 Olympian Bryony Pitman. It was as close as it could be, Healey eventually winning a shoot-off thanks to a better 10.

“I knew shooting against Bryony would be a close match as we normally get to a tie or shoot-off against each other,” said the teenager who is based in England. “I was just focusing on getting through my first match rather than who my opponent was.”

With British head coach Richard Priestman not in Vegas, it would be Pitman who subsequently took up the mantle of supporting Penny from the coaching box for the remainder of her campaign.

She witnessed the youngster dispatch Laura van der Winkel (6-0) and then Ana Maria Rendon (7-3) on her way to the final.

And in a venue often used to host rodeo shows – complete with a partisan home crowd and a different lighting set-up to the previous rounds – it was Healey who showed her spurs to defeat home nation favourite, Tokyo 2020 Olympian, world silver medallist, world number 13 and fellow teenager, Casey Kaufhold, 7-3.

“I didn’t find it too hard to refocus before going into the final, I've been working on my mental game a lot and I think this really helped me when I stepped out there,” she explained.

“I didn’t find the lighting that hard to adjust to either. I actually preferred it as I could spot my arrows better, plus a large crowd really motivates me so it was great to have them there,” continued Healey.

“In fact, shooting in the arena felt no real difference to anywhere else. It’s the same 18 metres and [target] faces I always shoot, the only real difference was how dark it was, especially compared to the rest of the venue.”

Healey was overcome by emotion after shooting the winning arrows, wiping away tears and hugging Pitman.

“It felt really good to share that winning moment with my teammate,” said Healey. “It was really wonderful to have her supporting me afterwards and knowing that my team is there for me even if I knock them out.

“It comforts me knowing that she knows what to say to me, and for the future as well [to know] how well we work together.”

As well as her British teammate, Penny also had her mum, Emma, in Vegas with her. But the tension proved a little too much in the finals arena at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa on Saturday night. Emma didn’t watch the final, preferring to wait to hear the outcome from her daughter afterwards.

“She didn’t watch the match, she was actually online shopping at the time to distract herself,” said a smiling Healey. “She was just too nervous to watch, so it was great to break the news to her myself.

“She actually bought lots of food and some new clothes online.”

After the victory, the commentators praised the work ethic of Healey. Co-commentator Jon Nott revealed that she was now training at the national high-performance facility in Lilleshall alongside Britain’s other senior internationals and described her victory in Las Vegas as a ‘breakthrough win’ before posing the question ‘…is there a new star coming through?’

Healey, despite collecting a serious international title at such a young age, is taking things one step at a time, with a sport she loves.

“Archery for me is my escape. I have trouble with anxiety and archery is the thing that calms me down, it helps take my mind off everything that’s stressing me in life,” she explained. “My plans for this year are to first get through our [Great Britain] senior selection shoot and make the team.”

That would send her to stages of the Hyundai Archery World Cup and maybe the European Championships.

“I then hope we can win a medal at one of the events this year.”