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Crossbow champ takes aim

June 13, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

NEW GRENADA, Pa. - John Gracey put his foot in the metal stirrup for purchase, drew back the string, stuck in an aluminum dart, picked up the contraption and pointed it at a target 20 yards away. Then he pulled the trigger.

The dart flew out and hit the target with a dull "thuck."

The Fulton County man put in another dart and aimed again. "Split the arrow," he says as the dart flew home. It missed the earlier dart.

Gracey, 71, is a world champion crossbow shooter, a title he claimed five years ago in a world competition in Hungary.

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In April, he won the senior compound bow competition in the morning and the open class crossbow in the afternoon at the Pennsylvania Indoor Archery Championship in Harrisburg, Pa.

Gracey's not bashful about recounting his accomplishments.

"I'm probably the only guy in Pennsylvania who's done that," Gracey said. "It's an amazing feat for a guy my age."

Asked to put on a demonstration of his crossbow prowess for the Fulton Fall Festival in 2000, Gracey billed himself as "the best all-around nonprofessional athlete you've ever seen," a moniker that stuck. He's been called that in at least one national archery magazine.

But age may be catching up with him, or at least the gout is. He said it's becoming painful to stand because of the affliction. It eventually may force him to put away his crossbow, he said.

Most competition crossbows of the kind he uses come from England or Australia and can run $2,000 or more. Gracey designed and built his own.

"I designed it on paper then took the pieces to a machine shop to have made," he said.

The process involved a lot of trial and error, he said. He'd have a piece machined, try it out and find it was out of balance or otherwise unsuitable. He'd design another one, have it made and give it a shot. Eventually, he ended up with one that worked.

He carved the bow's wooden stock.

Asked how much he had in the crossbow, he said, "I would have been better off buying one from Australia."

Still, he is rewarded with the feeling that he won a major state championship with a crossbow of his own design and construction.

"I worked on it for two years. I'm finally starting to win with it," he said.

He practices in his back yard and his basement.

Gracey, a retired Pennsylvania state forester, was into active sports long before he took up the crossbow.

He competes in track and field meets on the senior circuit, practicing pole vault, jumping, discus and javelin throwing in a makeshift course he built in his back yard.

He went to Hawaii in 1985 to compete in the Ironman triathlon. He swam 2.4 miles, pedaled a bicycle 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles to come in at about the middle of a pack of 1,100 competitors, he said.

One of his favorite competitions was the biathlon, a combination of cross-country skiing and target rifle.

He said he gave it up in the late 1980s and early 1990s because the winters were mild.

"There was no more snow so I decided that I needed another sport," he said. "That's when I picked up the crossbow."

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