Sandy Reitan's life has been on target for the past eight years, reigning as one of the world's top female dart players, running her dart shop in Anaheim and promoting professional darts as the upcoming sport.
Reitan's version of darts is not exactly the casual bar game where it's a race to see whether you can still hit the bull's-eye after drinking more than a few beers. There's money involved--a lot of money if your aim is straight.
Rated by World Dart Federation as the No. 1 woman dart player in the world in 1984 and by the American Darts Organization as the top woman player in the United States for the past five years, Reitan has pocketed enough money to throw darts professionally.
"There's about $1.5 million available each year, and the top five or six women can generally earn between $25,000 and $30,000 playing darts," Reitan said. "I get some funny looks when I tell people I throw darts for a living--most people can't believe it at first. It would be easier to believe I played tennis or golf."
Six years ago, Reitan, 34, opened the Dart Shop in Anaheim with her father, Ray, a retired steelworker. As co-owner of the accessory shop, she is able to compete throughout the world in dart tournaments while her father runs the business. In addition, she travels across the country promoting professional darts and introducing amateurs to the sport.
"Dart playing is catching on in the United States," she explained, "but compared to other countries, we still don't have the exposure. In England, dart players are treated like movie stars. People want their autographs and will pay money to watch the top players compete. Big crowds will turn out to watch the major competitions and the tournaments are often televised."
Once considered the sport of the working class, today's dart players include doctors, lawyers, actors and other white-collar professionals, Reitan said. Women are newcomers to the sport, but each year, their numbers increase.
"Darts is the one sport where men and women can compete equally," Reitan said. "It doesn't take muscles or upper-body strength. The gap between men and women in darts comes from the fact that men have been playing the game much longer.
"In the big tournaments, there's usually about 150 women registered compared to about 600 men."
Reitan formerly worked in restaurants, a police station and at a few clerical jobs. Her interest in darts began after a trip to England. When she returned to her home in Torrance, she and a few girlfriends met for drinks after work in a South Bay pub where a local dart tournament was in progress. She signed up as a beginner and was on her way.
"Playing darts is very addictive," she said. "You get hooked once you start throwing them. It's something everyone can do--the top female player in England right now is in her 60s."
Although the game is generally played in bars and lounges, Reitan said the major competitions are now played in the grand ballrooms of major hotels. Because it is a competitive sport, drinking alcohol isn't encouraged.
"I play to win," she said with a grin. "There's too much money at stake to drink. Most of us simply love the game, and any drinking involved is social, usually after the competition. The women who compete professionally are not considered barflies but serious contenders for top prize money."
Her enthusiasm for the sport increased two years ago when she married Andy Green, a world-ranked dart player himself. As a team in mixed competition, the couple rarely place below second or third in competition. They have mounted a dart board in the living room of their Torrance home and will be teaching Green's two young children from a previous marriage the game before they enter first grade.
"We aren't competitive with each other," she added hastily. "I've played against him and lost and beaten him in doubles (with a different partner). Let's just say that it's easier to play with him. Being in the same profession has been an asset because we can travel together."
Andy Green said his wife could beat anyone if she put her mind to it.
"When you consider that she's only played the game for eight years, and I've played all my life, she is one of the best," he said.
Tom Fleetwood, general secretary of the American Darts Organization, the governing board of professional darts, said that Reitan and Green are America's most successful dart-playing couple.
"They have been great ambassadors for the sport," Fleetwood said. "It's very fortunate for us that they live in the Los Angeles area. They play many league games in Orange and Los Angeles counties."
For those interested in the sport, Reitan said the best way to get started is to head down to the closest pub and throw a few darts. League players are always available to give tips and instructions on the most popular games.
However, Reitan warned, "be careful where you throw the first darts--try to aim at the board."