Erika Anschutz prepares to fire a flaming arrow to light the torch during the Cornhusker State Games opening ceremonies at Seacrest Field on Friday, July 20, 2012. (JACOB HANNAH / Lincoln Journal Star)

This time around, at least she didn’t have to worry about shooting an arrow into the governor.

It was just a framed photo, actually, but Erika Anschutz maintains that the picture of then-governor Ben Nelson was pretty lifelike.

Called on to showcase her archery skills at the opening ceremonies of the 1997 Cornhusker State Games, the 8-year-old Anschutz nailed a shot straight through her target — an apple that sat atop the cutout of Nelson, a setup that surely could have resulted in disaster, or embarrassment at the very least.

But for the mystery torch lighter of the 2012 Cornhusker State Games — revealed during Friday's opening ceremonies at Seacrest Field — the stakes were even higher. And the ramifications of a mishap — rather than just embarrassing — could have been outright dangerous.

But around 9:30 p.m., Anschutz launched a shot right into the cauldron, setting the torch ablaze and sending the crowd to its feet. Fireworks ensued.

The object was to launch an arrow 35 yards across a field into a 5-foot-diameter cauldron. Simple enough for an archer of her abilities — that’s until you consider that the tip of the arrow had to be ignited to light the torch on fire.

“I’m just not used to shooting with a flame on the end of my arrow,” the 23-year-old said hours before the torch lighting. “It’s different but it’s not different at the same time. It’ll add a little suspense even for me.”

In addition to Anschutz, the opening ceremonies for the 28th annual sports festival featured everything from fireworks to skydivers, live music and even a trampoline acrobatics performance by the Skyriders.

The Skyriders, a mainstay on the NBA and NCAA basketball halftime show circuit, last performed at the Cornhusker State Games in 2003. Director and lead jumper Ken Kovac called Lincoln one of his favorite venues.

“There are a few places you remember, and looking eyeball to eyeball with the PA announcer in the press booth is something I’ll never forget,” Kovac said of the group's last performance in Lincoln.

Over the course of 10 days, more than 11,000 athletes are expected to compete in the games, which officially commenced when Anschutz’s arrow reached the cauldron.

The professional archer from Grand Island said she wasn’t fazed by the addition of fire to her act. More of a concern, she said, was the new equipment that accompanied it.

Equipment she wasn’t used to. Like special-order arrows that are meant to burn and a different style of bow that could handle the heat.

Plus, Anschutz said, she couldn’t use a scope like she normally would. The flames would have melted the sighting equipment.

But to a seasoned professional such as Anschutz, the most important aspect of archery was undoubtedly muscle memory. And after practicing a few times during the week, she attested that it wasn’t a problem Friday.

“I mostly just let my body do the work,” she said. “I try not to think about anything and I just let my body do it.”

With Friday’s torch lighting, Anschutz was most excited to see her experience at the games go full-circle.

The crowd appeared to enjoy the feat just as much as she did.

"I've never seen anything like that," said Gage Heithold, 11. "I thought it was awesome."

Anschutz's shot certainly impressed Chad Ebert of Lincoln.

"I thought it was pretty neat," he said, also adding that he'd never seen anything like it.

The archer carried herself confidently throughout, never showing any signs of nerves from the moment she stepped upon the field.

The task at hand, after all, wasn’t all that different from the one she faced 15 years earlier, as a zealous 8-year-old, just getting her start in the sport.

“That was at the very beginning of my career and here I am kind of full force in the middle of it,” she said.

“It feels really good. It’s kind of a reunion of sorts.”

Reach Faiz Siddiqui at 402-473-7239 or fsiddiqui@journalstar.com.


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