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Competition inspires world crossbow champ

September 24, 1998

Crossbow champBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




NEW GRENADA, Pa. - The gold medal gets lost in the forest of awards, plaques and drawers full of honors in John Gracey's trophy room.

One of those medals shows that Gracey, 66, a retired state forest worker, is the world champion crossbow shooter. He won the medal this summer at the World Sport Crossbow Championship games in Belence, Hungary.

Gracey lives in New Grenada in the brick rancher he built when he married Mary Kauffman of Chambersburg, Pa., in 1961.

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The crossbow is a mean-looking weapon that shoots a small aluminum dart or arrow with the velocity of a rifle. So strong is the pull that even guys as sinewy as Gracey have to put their feet against the bow to draw back the string.

Even at that, Gracey said, the crossbow is not as powerful as modern compound bows used by deer hunters.

He's also won in archery competition. "I get better scores with a compound bow than I do with the crossbow," he said.

Gracey is a nationally ranked expert in rifle shooting and has run 20 marathons, three of them in Boston.

In 1985, he finished an Ironman triathlon in Hawaii in which he pedaled 112 miles on a bicycle, ran 26.2 miles and swam 2.4 miles. He also competes in biathlons, one of his favorite sporting events, which couple cross-country skiing with sharpshooting.

It was the biathlon that pointed Gracey to the crossbow.

There wasn't much snow in northern Fulton County, Pa., in the winter of 1989. It was hard for him to train for the biathlon.

"I saw a crossbow and was fascinated by it. I thought I'd try one for the winter," he said. "It got in my blood. I had to do more of it."

He began to compete in indoor and outdoor shoots across Pennsylvania. "I won every shoot I went to," he said.

He turned to world competitions, which are held every other year. He has been to every one since his first in Portugal in 1990. After that it was New Zealand in 1992, Germany in 1994, Taiwan in 1996 and Hungary this summer, where he won the gold in the sport-shooting competition.

Gracey's aim is so perfect that on occasion he splits his own arrow with his second shot, like Robin Hood in the movies.

He was the only American in the sport-shooting contest and one of five members of a male U.S. team in the hunting bow competition. An American women's team also competed, he said.

He didn't do well in the hunter class. A technical problem with his weapon pushed him back to 147th place in a field of 200 competitors. By the next day, the last of the two-day event, he moved up to 68th place.

He used to hunt game but now devotes his time and energy to shooting competitions.

"I've always been competitive," Gracey said. "I don't like the trophies. They're just something that hang around. I like the competition. How many guys do you know at 66 who win a world championship?"

Gracey keeps in shape by practicing his shooting, running every day, climbing Sideling Hill Mountain that looms over his home or lifting weights. He said he'd like to write a book about his career and experiences.

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