As Thomas Armenis raised his rifle and put his eye to the sight, he remembered what his father told him to say to himself: “Bull’s-eye.”
The 18-year-old target shooter from Pickering was competing at the Ontario Winter Games this weekend, two weeks after his dad died.
“He always told me, ‘Don’t look at your score. You only need to get a bull’s-eye,” Armenis said Saturday at the Rama MASK. “So, I always tell myself, ‘Bull’s-eye.’”
Despite the pressure of competition and the added emotion of participating in the games so soon after his father’s death, Armenis had an impressive showing. He earned a bronze medal for himself and shared in his team’s silver finish.
He’s sure his dad would be proud of him.
“Before he went, he said to me, ‘Stick to the plan,’” Armenis recalled. “I’m doing this for him.”
Armenis has been target shooting for four years with the Pickering Air Cadets 856 Squadron. He earned his place as the top national cadet-level target shooter last year. This is his last year as part of the Air Cadets program, but he plans to continue in a civilian capacity and he feels his experience with the Air Cadets has set him up for success.
“I learned a lot in that four years,” he said. “Everything’s falling into place. I think it’s meant to be. I feel it.”
While he would love to shoot at the Olympics, he also wouldn’t mind getting into automotive racing. He is studying in the motive power technician program at Durham College in Whitby — a gift from his dad, who saved up to pay his son’s tuition.
“We were really close,” Armenis said of their relationship.
Two days after he lost his dad, Armenis was back in competition.
“It was emotional,” he said, “and then I went to a comp and I shot for him. I kept talking to him during that comp.”
Dealing with such a profound loss adds to the challenge of excelling in a sport that requires intense concentration.
“When you’re playing hockey or basketball, it’s mainly physical,” Armenis said. “With a sport like this, it’s mostly in your head.”
But not entirely, as Mekenzie Van Bynen pointed out.
“Shooting’s the only sport where you train your body to be completely still,” she said. “We have to be able to recognize every tension in our body and alleviate them as much as possible.”
The 17-year-old from Delaware, near London, was competing in her first Ontario Winter Games this weekend. She decided to try target shooting six years ago as part of the East Elgin Sportsmen’s Association junior rifle program.
“It has taught me to focus better. It’s helped me focus on my classes more and where I need to improve,” she said.
Next up for Van Bynen is the Youth Olympic Games trials, which will take place in May at Fort Benning in Georgia.
“I would like to make it to the Olympics. That’s my end goal,” she said.
While she enjoyed the thrill of competition this weekend, one of the most memorable parts of her experience is the warm welcome to Orillia she and fellow athletes received.
“I’m so thankful for the support this community has given us,” she said. “We’ve really felt like a big part of these games. Everyone’s been so nice to us.”