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Missourians show off their Hunger Games survival skills

Game masters

Julia Sumpter

Ryan Gajewski, Sarah Smith, Kelsey Brandkamp and Jessica Hicklin have skills that would help them succeed in The Hunger Games arena. They are reminiscent of The Hunger Games tributes climber Rue, swimmer Finnick, bow hunter Katniss and painter Peeta.

November 21, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Shooting arrows, climbing trees, body painting and swimming are just a few of the skills that keep characters alive as they fight as tributes in The Hunger Games. The second installment of the trilogy, Catching Fire, opens in theaters tomorrow, and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are back in The Arena using their special skill sets to survive the fight-to-the-death saga.

The Hunger Games appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 200 consecutive weeks, and the first film made $155 million on opening weekend in 2012, making it the third biggest debut in terms of revenue. Why is the series so popular? “The sort of science fiction plus youth culture plus romance has a lot of different elements,” says John Evelev, an MU English associate professor and fan of the series. “It’s very action-oriented, and the action is very compelling, and that translates well on the screen.”

As movie buffs prepare to take in the action on the big screen, find out what it takes to master arena-worthy skills in reality.

We’ve rounded up four individuals from Columbia and St. Louis who represent real life characters from The Hunger Games. Find out how they mastered the skills of the Games and their realistic benefits. They’ve found these passions have physical, mental and professional perks that keep the odds ever in their favor.

Archer Kelsey Brandkamp started shooting when she was 12 years old. She has competed in local and national tournaments for the past eight years. Photo by: JULIA SUMPTER

Aim like Katniss

“Kelsey Brandkamp.” If her name were to be called at the Reaping, she’d know what to do. Just as Katniss used her bow to emerge victorious in The Hunger Games, Brandkamp aims to win. The bow-and-arrow enthusiast is the vice president of MU’s Archery Club and has been shooting competitively for eight years — she has even killed a black bear while bow hunting.

Brandkamp uses stealth and concentration to master the skill of bow hunting. “Archery gives you an advantage as far as distance … and bows are silent,” she says. “You’re not going to hear it until it’s too late.” If you’re interested in taking up bow hunting, Brandkamp suggests finding someone who knows what he or she is doing. Another key — confidence. “It’s 90 percent mental,” she says. “You have to be very consistent; you have to be very focused.”

Archery can provide more than meat for dinner, though. “It’s like yoga to some people,” Brandkamp says. “It centers you.”

Multimedia by Karen Rodriguez and Nicole Lunger



Ryan Gajewski, an expert rock climber, has been climbing for seven years and travels across the U.S. to visit climbing hot spots, such as Colorado and Nevada. Photo by: JULIA SUMPTER

Climb like Rue

The Hunger Games character Rue and Columbia rock climber Ryan Gajewski would have scaled to the top of the competition together. Gajewski says climbing is a valuable skill though Rue died in the first installment.

In the movie, the biggest advantage to climbing is evasion. In reality, it’s a workout. According to Gajewski, most people don’t have the muscle strength needed to climb. “Climbing requires a lot of weird muscle groups that you don’t get from a normal workout,” Gajewski says. To stay in shape, Gajewski climbs four to five times a week. Pull-ups and cardio provide a great start for beginner rock climbers to tone the needed muscles.
Gajewski also suggests focusing on individual finger strength by doing hang exercises.

His advice for rock climbing novices: “Use your feet, not your hands, so you don’t wear yourself out as fast. Your hands are there to keep you on the wall, but your feet should be doing all the work.”

Multimedia by Karen Rodriguez and Nicole Lunger





Professional face and body painter Jessica Hicklin graduated from The Art Institute of Houston and started her body painting business based in Chesterfield, Mo. seven years ago. Photo by: JULIA SUMPTER

Paint like Peeta

Although she didn’t learn by decorating cakes, both Hunger Games victor Peeta and professional face and body painter Jessica Hicklin are masters of using paint to create illusion. In the first film, Peeta uses his skill to hide from other tributes in a river bank. Hicklin’s job is about artistic expression, not life or death. With more than 20 years of painting experience, Hicklin would be the camouflage expert in the Games.

Peeta’s tools include mud, berries and sticks, but in the professional world, Hicklin starts with quality products. “It’s like makeup. If you use (nice products), it makes it so much easier to learn how to use and apply.”

Hicklin puts her skills to use for photo shoots, fashion shows and corporate events, as well as painting her face for hunting. Even if you don’t get it perfect, attempting to blend in isn’t for naught. “They might be able to see you, but if you have that camo, it could buy you time,” Hicklin says.

Multimedia by Karen Rodriguez



Sarah Smith, Columbia Swim Club Coach, says swimming is one of the most physically challenging and beneficial sports. She says it strengthens the mind and the body. Photo by: JULIA SUMPTER

Swim like Finnick

Swimming might not have been a necessary skill in the first installment of the series, but the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire is a different game. Tribute Finnick uses his swimming talent, along with a trident and a woven net, to compete in the The Arena. Minus the merman accessories, Columbia Swim Club Coach Sarah Smith teaches her students the benefits and importance of swimming.

“Without swimming, it would have been impossible for (the tributes) to succeed, and I see that as a reflection of real life,” Smith says. “It’s a survival skill.”

Not only is swimming physically good for you, but it also has mental benefits. “Swimming requires a tremendous amount of coordination,” Smith says. “You have to pull with your arms, kick with your legs, so it makes your brain sharp.” It is key for swimmers to have safety knowledge outside of the pool. Both Finnick and Smith know CPR, which is a valuable technique for anyone to master.

Multimedia by Nicole Lunger

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