Shoot for the Vitals hits the mark

Archers take aim at a wildlife target during Shoot For the Vitals, an annual event held north of Crutwell to raise funds for community members awaiting an organ or tissue transplant. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

This archery tournament has regular bows and arrows and scorecards, but the target is unlike any other.

Participants in the sixth annual Shoot for the Vitals aren’t aiming trophies or medals. There’s no first place prize, although high scores and personal bests are definitely a bonus. Instead, the roughly 100 archers who take part are hoping to raise money and awareness for organ and tissue donation.

It’s an event that’s grown from roughly a dozen participants when it started, and now draws archers from across Saskatchewan. They’re all united by one thing: a desire to help those in need of a transplant.

“One cause supports the other,” says Randy Rathy, an APA Archery pro staff shooter taking part in the event. “For us, the cause is great. We put everything behind it to make it better.

“It’s something that affects everybody,” adds Jim Street, another APA archery pro staff shooter. “Maybe not today, but things change.”

Street’s support for Shoot for the Vitals is personal. His mother had her organs donated when she died at the age of 42, and he’s never forgotten her foresight, and how it helped others.

He also likes that it’s a Saskatchewan-based event put on by a local family, but family connections remain his biggest motivation.

“We got up one Sunday morning and mom was putting peas and carrots and things in jars and she didn’t get to come home that night,” Street remembers. “She never did come home, but because of her donation, a couple more lives got to live on, so to me, it’s always been a passion.”

Rathy and Street both live in Saskatchewan, but regularly travel to tournaments in Alberta and Manitoba. While there, they’ll start spreading the word about Shoot for the Vitals, with the hopes of convincing as many archers as possible to join up.

Every year, they run into more and more archers who have a friend or a family member in need of an organ donation, and are eager to take part. However, it’s still an uphill battle to convince people, from all walks of life, just how great the need is.

“The bulk of people put their heads in the sand until it comes home to their family,” Street says. “Then it’s like they’re all panicking and running and wondering where they can (get a donation). When there are things like (Shoot for the Vitals) they just go…”

He finishes by shrugging his shoulders.

“Once it touches your family, then of course, the support is there,” Rathy says. “(Shoot for the Vitals) is something, I hope, that in the near future will really grow.”

The family that’s organized this event since the start is more than happy for that support and dedication.

Ralph Harris and his nephew Tyler created it as a way to raise money and start a conversation about organ donation. Family members are all over the grounds manning booths and giving directions. As avid hunters and archers, they saw an archery shoot like this one as the perfect fundraiser, and the community has eagerly offered its support.

“The archery community is a great thing,” says Harris, who serves as the event’s vice-president. “If there’s a need, people will come and help you. It’s a great sport too.”

For Harris, this fundraiser is intensely personal. Pulminary Fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs, runs in the family. His sister Karen died in March 2014 while waiting for an organ donation. Now, he has the same disease too.

Despite the struggles, he’s in high spirits, and focused on making Shoot for the Vitals the best event it can be, for as long as he possibly can.

“We’re fighting through it to make it work,” he says. “It’s important for us to do this here to help the community out.”

More than 1,600 people are added to organ donation lists every year in Canada.

The Harris family has donated more than $15,000 since Shoot for the Vitals started.