Toja Cerne: “It is my Goal to Walk From the Line With a Smile on my Face”
Twenty-one-year-old international archer Toja Cerne, who studies sport at the University of Ljubljana, remembers the moment her friend invited her to shoot some arrows with a compound bow for the first time.
She immediately recognised her passion for the sport and, due to her “persistent” character – as Toja likes to describe it – she competed in her first tournament in Slovenia, with her own bow, just a few months later.
It must have been due to this persistency and determination that only a few years later she began shooting internationally. In 2014, she officially made the jump from successful junior to medal-winning senior when she collected a silver medal at the World Cup stage in Medellin before qualifying for the Lausanne 2014 Archery World Cup Final.
Her results over the last year pushed her into the top 10 in the compound women’s world ranking list.
In January 2015, Toja won bronze in Nimes at the third stage of the 2014/15 Indoor World Cup and finished fifth at the series’ Finals in Las Vegas.
On her path to third place at Nimes 2015, Toja knocked out Erika Jones from the USA and Brit Naomi Jones. She fell behind States archer Lexi Keller in the bronze final, but stayed tight throughout the match – evening things up after three ends.
After 12 arrows, Lexi was a single point ahead again – but Toja finished with a confident triple 10 while her opponent put two out of the middle. It reversed that one point advantage and handed Toja the win, 146-145.
The Slovenian’s says her greatest success, so far, was winning the World Archery Field Championships in August 2014: “I was shooting great and leading the whole week [in Zagreb]… and I finished my final match strong.”
Drawn against Croatian Ivana Buden for gold, Toja stayed focused after an exceptional week in which she lead at each stage of the competition: qualification, the two elimination stages and during the finals. She collected the podium top spot after six of her 12 shots in the final hit the centre, building her a clear 12-point lead (63-51).
“I think the time you have to enjoy your success is when you listen to your national anthem,” explains Toja. “After that you already have to think about the next competition and memorise the feeling of good shooting.”
Medellin 2014 and her first-ever senior individual final on the World Cup circuit turned Toja’s archery world upside down. She had travelled to Colombia by herself and experienced some real troubles en route.
After missing one of her flights, she arrived in Medellin exhausted and without a bow, which had been separated from its owner and left at the previous airport.
“I was stressed out before the competition even started; but it was a great experience – and I learned that I don’t need to be nervous because in the end things turn out okay, somehow,” she says.
“I shot well the whole week.”
As Toja recalls, on the day when she came through all the matches to the final, she could not sleep: “I was so excited that I wasn’t really able to control my emotions. And then my match wasn’t really the best – all my shots were too quick.”
“I enjoyed shooting against Erika and it was fun that my coach was my best friend Maja Marcen. Colombia’s Sara Lopez was pulling my arrows out, because I didn’t have any Slovenian teammates in Medellin.”
After the 15-arrow match, Toja was eight points behind the USA’s Erika JONES – and walked away with silver, 137-145.
Like most other athletes, the young archer sees the transition to the senior ranks as significant. “I think there is definitely a difference between junior and senior tournaments. The competitions are at a higher level and feature a lot more experienced archers,” she says.
“Junior competitions are great to start with. I am happy that I was able to compete as a cadet and junior before I became senior. I was growing as an archer and I got some great experiences. Junior competitions are not a big pool of sharks – like seniors definitely are.”
“I had been fighting in the senior division every year since 2009, at a few competitions. So it wasn’t a sudden change.”
“I got my first senior medal in 2011 in the mixed team competition in Porec – we were second – and then a few months later, I came third at the European Field Championships. In 2013, I won the European Field Championships and in 2014, I became world field champion.”
According to Toja, it was during this last year that she officially arrived as a senior competitor.
Travelling is one of Toja’s favourite activities – but she wouldn’t describe herself as the typical type of tourist: “I like it exactly how it is at tournaments. I get to see just enough of the country that we are competing in. It lets me know whether I want to come back as tourist one day to get to know the culture more closely.”
One of her favourite places so far is Colombia. “I love the fruits, which you’re able to buy there on the streets. I really like how kind and happy the people are,” says Toja.
“I am a very communicative person myself, so maybe that’s the reason that I prefer countries with open and friendly people.”
As Toja reveals, in Slovenia right now she has no women to compete with or to shoot team rounds or matches against: “This is one of the reasons why I definitely prefer international competitions. They are fun, I have girls to compete against and friends to shoot with on the line.”
“But I take national championships very seriously, as well. It is amazing training.”
The Slovenian athlete enjoys both individual and team competitions: “I see team rounds as more like a game. I approach them with the same seriousness, but it is fun to work together with someone and share happiness at the end.”
“But being able to perform well in individual rounds is amazing. If I have to pick one, I prefer individual.”
Before she started archery, Toja was a gymnast and also practised badminton. That’s where she met that friend who introduced her to archery.
“I came home after that first time I tried her bow and told my parents: ‘I want one’,” recalls Toja. “They were shocked at first, but knew how persistent I could be.”
Her first bow took two months to arrive from the USA. In the meantime, she shared equipment with her friends and enjoyed shooting different targets. It wasn’t long until her first tournament – something Toja remembers motivating her to train more and improve.
“Now it’s been more than seven years since I first shot, but I still love and enjoy archery. My parents were right about me being persistent.”
Toja not only enjoys having friends all over the world but also thinks the sport has had a great impact on her mind and personality.
“Archery pushes you to think about your reactions and emotions; you have to learn to control them. It is easier to say that than sometimes to really control everything that is happening around you,” she explains. “I never compete against a person. I think that I can affect only my own shooting and reaction – so I don’t look at what others are doing.”
“I try to write my own story: it is my goal to walk from the line with a smile on my face, no matter what happens.”
As she works on finishing her studies with a view to concentrating on the sport full-time for a few years, Toja reflects on what archery means to her: “I think it helps me to become a better person… independent – and it prepares me for the rest of my life.”