December 2023 Athlete of the Month
By Del Moon, NSGA PR Specialist
Edna Siniff, 87
When Edna Siniff was three years old, she discovered her competitive spirit and sharp eye when she insisted on shooting BB guns with her older brother. “Dad set us up in the basement shooting at hanging corks,” she recalls. “By the age of six I was keeping those corks swinging.”
Edna took up riflery at Michigan State where her supportive coach saw an intuitive shooter. “In those days women were not allowed to travel to compete and there weren’t many women’s rifle teams, but in my senior year the coach put me on the men’s team,” she says. “I could only shoot at home meets, but I felt like I was opening doors for women to compete.”
Then a letter came from the Olympic Committee inviting her to be the first alternate on the U.S. Shooting Team. “The letter also informed about how much money I had to put up. I was a poor farm girl and all my money was going to pay for college, so I had to pass,” she says, adding softly, “My coach and I had tears in our eyes and I told him, ‘Some day…’”
Six decades later, Edna fulfilled her promise. “When I realized I could be doing archery in the Senior Games, which is the Olympics for people my age, that was my ‘Some day.’”
Edna had started shooting arrows in 8th grade, but all sports took a back seat when she became an adult. Her family gave her the impetus to pick up a bow again in 2013 at the age of 76, and a new world opened.
“Senior Games was my motivation,” she asserts. “My daughter and her husband gave me a wonderful gift of a ‘Grandma Day’ one day a week where I could go do whatever I wanted with my grandsons. One week they wanted to shoot bows, so I set them up at the range to get a lesson and shoot. I had my old longbow from 8th grade with nothing on it – no sights or arrow rest. It was basically a piece of wood with a string on it.”
“I had it inspected and fixed up and I was happy to see my previous training came back and I was hitting the target well,” she continues. “My grandson texted my daughter and said, ‘Mom, Grandma’s hitting the bull!’ The next text was, ‘Mom, Grandma is beating us!,’ she says with a chuckle. “So it’s their fault I got back into archery, and I’m so proud of them.”
That fall, Edna saw a video about the National Senior Games at her YMCA and decided the next day to qualify and compete in archery. She transitioned to a compound bow, then had to adapt from shooting 20 yards indoor as a youth to shooting from 60, 50 and 40 yards. “That’s a total of 180 shots over two days of competition. I consider it an endurance event.”
The resourceful senior obtained special assistance from a Paralympic gold medalist and a young archer training for the Olympics. “They told me to train hard, but to do something fun and relaxing and not think about archery the day before the competition. It works,” she states.
Edna qualified and entered her first National Senior Games in 2015. Now 87, the sure shot has yet to win anything less than a gold medal at either the state or national level and was inspired from the start. “At my first Nationals I saw this one gentleman who was 98, and I was entranced watching him. His form was phenomenal. That’s my goal – I want to shoot a Nationals when I’m 98!”
It has not been an easy journey in her new senior sporting life. She fights asthma and lingering issues from a youth concussion. More recent knee replacements caused her to miss The Games in Birmingham in 2017. Then, an inner ear tumor which affects balance was discovered four years ago that would require walking assistance.
“I had been using trekking poles before this for hikes and around the neighborhood, because the Mayo Clinic said you get 20 percent more exercise by working the upper body too,” she says. “I use the poles and a folding bar stool when I shoot.”
Yet another obstruction came with a bout of Bell’s Palsy in June 2023, which was still producing symptoms when she went to Pittsburgh the next month. She planned to use a scooter to retrieve her arrows, but the wet grass shorted it out. “I turned to my daughter and said, ‘You have to be my legs and eyes today to go to the target when they score me.’” (Note: Assistance is permitted under Archery rules.)
In addition to Edna’s sport achievements, which includes being named to the Minnesota Senior Athlete Hall of Fame, she has published three books, created a newspaper that is still serving east central Minnesota, and operated a farm for 30 years. Her hobbies include working in her greenhouse, playing with clay sculpting and a devotion to puppetry. “I used to have a ‘Puppet Theater’ and taught kids how to do it. I still enjoy making and restoring marionettes and finding them new homes.”
The new avocation is to help others like her get moving. “My success and some publicity in the state has brought attention to archery for other seniors,” she says. “I have recruited four senior women to come do archery with me, and some are from the Ojibwa Nation. I actually paid for their first lesson so they would know how to shoot safely. They are all hooked!”