At 8 a.m. on a recent Tuesday morning, Meredith Lathbury stood at the 30-yard marker of the Anne Arundel Archers in Crofton.
It already was 85 degrees on a day when temperatures were projected to soar above 100. As the left-hander raised her 35-pound bow to a point just below her left cheekbone, perspiration began to form on her face, causing the strands of her wavy, shoulder-length blond hair to clump.
Undaunted by the intense heat, Lathbury, a 1989 graduate of Atholton High, stared down the 12-inch-long sight, which extends outward and at eye level toward the target. With her feet even with her shoulders, she pulled back the drawstring as far as it would go.
Yet, with the release only seconds away, Lathbury stopped and seemed to be enjoying the moment. She tuned out the sound of cars zooming by on Route 3 and tuned in the sound of the early-morning forest -- the birds,the crickets, the silence.
"You're in almost a complete balance of harmony with your physical and mental states," says the 20-year-oldSeverna Park resident about what has become her daily routine beforegoing to work at a local law firm.
"This keeps me sane. It's veryeasy to get caught up in the rat race and so hard to find something that you can focus and totally concentrate on. It's not the act so much as the art and the process of shooting. It's so relaxing that it'salmost like meditating."
Lathbury hopes her single-mindedness will help her defend her state title Sept. 14-15 in the Ladies' Outdoor competition at Friends School in Baltimore.
She is vastly improvedsince entering her first major competition -- the collegiate nationals in March 1990 -- where she was 134th out of 300 competitors.
Two months later, Lathbury, then a sophomore at Towson State University, was competing in the Olympic Festival trials when an Olympic coach,Julia Bowers, approached her about a possible archery scholarship toMillersville (Pa.) University.
"I was shocked," says Lathbury, who turned down the offer to attend Penn State University, where she isa junior economics major with a 3.5 grade-point average.
"I've only been doing it for a little over two years, so I still feel like a beginner."
An archery target has 10 scoring areas, with the the bull's-eye worth 10 points.
The scoring areas are grouped by twos: bull's-eye and nine are gold; eight and seven, red; six and five, blue; four and three, black; two and one, white.
Lathbury steadies thebow for a few seconds before the aluminum, gold-colored arrows shoottoward her practice target -- a 6-inch dot pinned to a bail of hay.
She repeats the process four times -- twice she hits bull's-eyes near the top of the solid black dot; the other three arrows land less than a centimeter outside the circle's bottom portion. The pleasure reads on her face as she extends both hands, palms up, displaying her accomplishment to a bystander.
"This is how it's supposed to be --they're all grouped together," says Lathbury, who uses a recurve bowrather than the pulley-operated compound, which reduces the draw-tension.
"The recurve is more challenging, and it's closer to the original, the Robin Hood-type archery."
Despite her relatively quick rise to prominence, Lathbury prefers the more anonymous side of archery. There's something about stalking through a wooded area like that at the Anne Arundel Archer's that speaks to her soul.
"Lots of people like to come out here and shoot with each other. I like coming out here all by myself," she says.
The dense forest blocks out the sun and the heat, similar to the trees in her friend's backyard in Towson, where Lathbury first picked up a bow, as a 17-year-old.
The UMBC golf course didn't offer the same kind of atmosphere at the Maryland State Games July 19-21, where Lathbury scored a 735 for the silver medal -- nine points behind New Carrollton's Fran Brock.
But it was the 95-degree heat and equipment problems that, more than anything, hurt Lathbury's concentration.
"I was sweating so much that thebow kept slipping off of my face and the nocking point had melted. Ihad a horrible set of arrows because the new set I had ordered did not arrive in time," says Lathbury.
"Still, I was satisfied with the tournament. We shot four distances -- from 70 and 60 meters to 30 meters -- and I shot the best at the last distance (30 meters) when I could finally get some consistency."
Her bow, with its various stabilizing gadgets, resembles a television antenna.
"The clicker" mechanism is attached to the drawstring and clicks to let the archer know how far back to draw the bow.
Two-and-a-half inches above the nocking point is the kisser button -- so called because when her bow is drawn, it strikes her at the level of her lips. When set correctly,the nocking point of the drawstring lands at chin level.
All three were malfunctioning over the weekend.
Lathbury likens archery toplaying the viola, a hobby she has enjoyed for 11 years.
"Like music, it has its mental disciplines and precision -- something that came really easily for me," says Lathbury. "This was just so natural that I loved it the minute I tried it.
"Where I go from here is justa matter of dedication and making it a part of my game plan. I'm planning on putting my equipment through major surgery, so that I don't lose any more tournaments this summer."