Brady Ellison attributes his position as America's best archer in part to the years he spent growing up in the Rim Country.
"I remember Payson as a small town where you could ride your bike out into the forests and shoot or do about anything you wanted to," he said. "It was there my dad taught me to (archery) hunt."
Among the big game hunts he recalls going on with his father, an avid hunter and a taxidermist, was an outing for bear.
"I was about 11 (years old)," he said.
Ellison attended Payson Elementary School and Rim Country Middle School before moving to Glendale at the end of his eighth-grade year.
There, he lived with his mother and stepfather, Mel Nichols, who has a full archery range set up in his back yard.
Ellison, 19, completed high school online and is now a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. where he is favored to win the U.S. Olympic Trials and become a member of the American team for the 2008 Beijing Games.
"He loves it there (at Chula Vista), he'll probably live there the rest of his life," said his grandmother Alesha Calderwood of Payson. "The regime there is pretty tough, but he's doing something he loves."
Ellison said formal practice sessions at the training center take up "anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week."
Olympic coaches at the training center, including U.S. national coach Kisik Lee, are predicting that Ellison could someday become "the best in the world."
Ellison only shrugs when he hears those stunning predictions, but does say his goal is to not only make the U.S. Olympic team but also to win a medal.
The teenager is well on his way to a spot on the squad, having won Olympic trials, or "selection shoots" in Conyers, Ga. and earlier this month in Chula Vista.
The field of 16 archers will be pared to eight at a final selection shoot to be held May 1-4 in Phoenix.
For Ellison, the quest to make the team is almost second nature.
"Archery is my life," he said.
Ellison began his climb to archery's pinnacle shooting the compound bow. In the spring of 2005, he was a member of the U.S. World Team that traveled to the World Indoor Archery Champion-ships in Aalborg, Denmark.
That summer, he enrolled in a camp for all types of bows at the Olympic Training Center.
Ellison says during the camp he broke a string on his compound bow and didn't have a replacement, so he borrowed a recurve.
Compound bows are typically used in hunting, and recurves in archery competition.
Almost immediately, he decided to switch from the compound, which he had shot most of his life, to a recurve so he could someday compete in the Olympics.
Recurve bows are the only ones used in the Olympic games.
Ellison proved at the 2006 Mexican Grand Prix that making the conversion from one bow style to the next was not going to be a problem. There, he won five gold medals. He also finished sixth at the Texas Shootout and seventh at the Arizona Cup, and in 2007 he was senior national champion and a member of the gold-medal U.S. team and the Pan American Games in Brazil.
Those successes prompted him to set his sights on the 2008 Olympics rather that the 2012 Olympics for which he originally hoped to qualify.
Ellison sprung onto the national archery season as a 13-year-old when he qualified to participate in the International Bowhunters Organization Championships in Snowshoe, W.V.
His expertise on the 3D archery range also earned the teen an invitation to the nationally televised Cabella's Classic in Anniston, Ala.
Ellison -- then an honor student at RCMS --arned the two invitations by virtue of an incredible string of successes in which he won 12 of 13 shooting competitions. In the other, he finished second.
Among his victories were impressive showings at the IBO Winter Nationals at Usery Mountain, where he won the age group crown with a tally of 359 on a par-400 course.
At a state shoot held at Ben Avery Range, Ellison tallied 420 points that turned out to be the best score of the competition in all age classifications.
His run of gold-medal finishes continued at an ASA state qualifier in Casa Grande, the Grand Canyon Games at Usery Mountain and a Boy Scout shoot, also at Usery Mountain.
The youngster strung together three more victories, including the Harry Winn Memorial in Globe, before finishing second at a Mormon Lake shoot. The runner-up showing ended his impressive win streak at nine.
Competing in the 2002 Harry Winn event, Ellison shot his way to wins on both the smoker course and the novelty shoot.
Those victories, as important as they proved to be, were not the urbane, stylish Olympic events he now enters.
Ellison continued his climb to archery success in 2004 when he was chosen a member of the USA Junior Outdoor Target Archery World Championship team that traveled to Lilleshall, England where it participated in the world showdown.
As a member of the No. 1 seeded U.S. Cadet Compound Male Team, he helped the squad earn a gold medal.
Looking back on his time in the Rim Country, Ellison remembers sometimes shooting with Payson's only other Olympic archer -- Dr. Harold Rush, now a retired dentist.
"He was very good," Ellison said.
As a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center he has little time to return to his Payson roots, but does schedule visits to his grandparents.
"I get back there about twice a year," he said. "I look forward to them."