Shehzana Anwar's on a quest to grow Kenyan archery

Kenya's Shehzana Anwar shoots an arrow during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where she lost on the first round to defending champion Ki Bo Bae. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images


Seconds later... Thock!

The repetitive noise on a tree-lined field in Kenya has drawn a small crowd. They are watching a young woman, who has her eyes fixed on a target some 70 meters down the field, as she releases arrow after arrow.

The slight yet strong archer, standing at 5 feet and 3 inches tall, lets fly with another, and the thock! sounds again, as the arrow strikes home.

Two consecutive reds and a bullseye prompt cheers from other archers practicing at Strathmore University in Nairobi.

The woman in question is Kenyan Olympian and Rio 2016 flag-bearer Shehzana Anwar, who has carved out an unlikely role as a champion of this niche sport in her country.

The daughter of Kenyan World Rally Championship driver Azar Anwar, and sister to quad bike racer Shazar Anwar, Shehzana found her own path to high-level competition through the far quieter calling of the recurve bow and arrow.

"I took up archery outside of school and while most sports in school are adrenaline-based, archery required you to stand still and concentrate," Anwar, now 28 and a coach, tells KweséESPN.

"It was different, and there were so many people who encouraged me to keep doing it, like my mother and the older, more experienced archers in the local club."

After trying her hand at the ancient sport for the first time in 2003, aged 14, Anwar still had to wait for two years to participate in a major tournament, as she was too young, and also needed experience.

Still, she adds: "After a year or so of having started archery, I took part in my first local competition in Kenya, where my score was higher than the men in the same category. Being a feminist, I was hooked."

Since then, Anwar's stock has risen exponentially, from appearing in the Olympics to becoming one of the leading coaches in the sport in Kenya.

"I have represented Kenya in over 10 international competitions, from 2005 to 2016. My biggest achievements are winning the 11th African Archery championship in 2016, [and qualifying] for Olympic games in archery," she outlines.

Emerging from the Maracana Stadium tunnel in Rio two years ago, bearing the Kenyan flag, was a watershed moment. With the eyes of the nation fixed on the country's many talented long distance runners, Anwar's exploits had usually fallen below the radar.

By representing the East African nation on the world's largest sporting stage, she became only the third Kenyan after Jennifer Mbuta and Dominic John Rebelo to represent the country at archery.

However, even with her Olympic appearance, where she was defeated in the first round by defending champion Ki Bo Bae, choosing to pursue a niche sport to the highest level has not been easy.

"My challenges are very many. Financial being the biggest. Lack of financial support from relevant authorities left me stranded many a time," she says.

Finding world-class training facilities in the lead up to the Olympics was also problematic.

"While top athletes were in full-time training and getting in an average of 2000 arrows a week, I could only manage an average of 600 with the time I had," she explains.

Sheer strength of will has ensured that she locked horns with the world's best.

"I had to work-part time for three years to save enough money to buy a good bow and buy my ticket and accommodation to the 11th African Archery Championship, which I won," she says, factually instead of arrogantly.

Despite the obstacles, Shehzana Anwar still has big dreams, both as competitor and coach. The National Archery Organisation of Kenya (NOAK) now boasts three World Archery Level-1 coaches and a league that includes archers from all over East Africa.

"One of my goals or dreams is to make it to more international competitions and increase my world ranking as a Kenyan Archer, as well as make it to more Olympic games and improve my performance from the last time.

"Another of my goals is to help archery grow in Kenya. I have attended archery coaching seminars and courses and would like for Kenya to take a team to an international event one day.

"I would like to help archery become more accessible to its citizens," she says.

Thanks to the success of Anwar and other non-track athletes, like javelin sensation Julius Yego (also known in Kenya as the "YouTube Man" after he admitted that he'd used YouTube to improve his skill set), there is growing recognition in Kenya that with adequate training programs, facilities, and the right talent, smaller sports are set for growth.

Although they may not immediately achieve the almost legendary status of the Kipchoge's, the Kemboi's, the Cheruiyot's and the Tergats, they can still make their mark on the sporting landscape of Africa's athletics giant.