I picked up a bow in the spring of 2018, I had been around ranges for a while since the rest of the house was shooting and had been for a while. I loved the sound of the arrows hitting the boss, still find it soothing and I am happy to sit and read a book listening to that noise.
I had made friends, supported people, joined committees and thought maybe I should give it a whirl. Talked about it with lots of people, I don’t make rash decisions 😂 I have a number of issues that I knew would likely make my shooting time short, but with some effort I might get 2-3 years. So off I went in the winter of 2017 and got a compound bow ready for after I had completed my planned beginners course early 2018. The issues with my back and shoulder pretty much mean compound is the only suitable bow style.
So there we have the first “issue” a group of established archers who protested – a brand new, novice archer with a compound bow, nope cannot be allowed, so dangerous and time limits were suggested from 12 to 24 months that I should have to shoot an alternative bow style, preferably recurve, to prove I was safe before being allowed on a range with a compound bow!!
I was lucky, very lucky, to have a group of archers and committee members support me and once I completed my beginners course, the offer of a coach – brave enough to stand beside the dangerous prospect of a beginner with a compound bow and so began my journey to shoot, not know what was coming!
My coach was starting his (then named) level 2 coaching course and the candidates needed a “Guinea pig” (my term – don’t be offended) to work with and take to their assessment. So we sat with the paperwork where I had to explain the many issues with my body that were going to be an issue with the goals I had set myself. Or rather he sat, I stood as I genuinely expected at some point during the conversation he would tell me it was a non starter and I would be better selling my bow and quitting. Nope, he never flinched and just said, right, let’s learn together!
Without a doubt having someone who never flinches and stands beside you in support is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have.
We worked and I worked hard! My aim was to get to the summer and the club celebration shoot an informal, relaxed environment with a competition and cake! My family however were much more confident in me and advised me that my first competition was booked for April! (I do not advocate booking people on to competition without their permission, my family know me though).
By the end of that first outdoor season I had shot 23 competitions and was shooting for the county – the most amazing and supportive group of archers led by, in my opinion, the best county captain there is. I had fallen in love with a 1440 and enjoyed a Hereford – but these long rounds would see me stand all day, couldn’t allow myself to sit and relax because once I do that the pain hits massively, my relationship with pain, is like everyone’s – personal and individual, but I do not take painkillers because I have watched someone very close to me struggle for many years with addiction to pain medication, I know that there will be a lot of opinion and I am not saying my way is by any means correct, but it’s my way.
I am so very grateful to those who have always supported me, laughed with me on the range whilst watching me struggle with the pain and sat with me and held my hand at the end of the day when, after raffles and medals and everything else is over, I lay on the floor and let my body relax and allow the pain in, and as my muscles spasm and seize up and I cannot move they chat with me and sometimes cry with me.
My coach suggested maybe we look at sitting to shoot, no! No – I saw this as giving in, I don’t give in to my pain, I had never done so. I was 43 and had struggled forever, for me sitting was giving in. So on we went. I had set myself a goal at the beginning of the season – a third class, I came away with a second class – happy? No! I had so many scores that were just a handful of points from a first class! So I saw failure – I had surpassed my goal but felt that I had let myself down! Trust me I know what my counsellor has said about this – my mind is and will likely always be my biggest issue.
Indoor season saw me start county coaching and a change of coach, supported back at club by my first coach. Looking at the issues that impact me both physically and mentally. I never shot less than double sessions indoors but often did the triple, I felt that I needed to keep my body capable of that consistency and volume ready to go back outdoors, a double is a few less so in my mind the triple – a few extra seemed obvious and I was having fun. I hate indoors, makes me feel trapped but I fell in love with the vegas and set myself the goal that in 2025 I will go to Vegas and shoot a Vegas for my 50th birthday.
As summer 2019 approached my body was showing the impact of shooting between 800 – 1000 arrows a week and I started to worry I might not manage that 3 years I had hoped for in the beginning. But consistency started to fail as the pain sometimes kicked in during the day despite my best efforts. My coach found himself away for work and I was a little lost, though he also suggested sitting to shoot! What is wrong with these people!
Another 2nd class at the end of summer 2019, again so close to that first! and the worry that the pain would slowly increase and the chance at the first class would be lost forever. So a new coach? First meeting we discussed all the issues and I warned him friend or not, do not suggest that I sit to shoot! He decided it was time to add to the team, and a call was made to our mutual friend who is also a physio. Sometimes you need an expert!
Within a couple of weeks I had my first session with the physio and lots of tears, the NHS who are brilliant have only ever dealt with me a bit at a time but this was a list of everything, what the implications are and how we might approach them.
As the indoor season progressed the issue of the stool was raised and again I refused, but the subject was raised a few weeks later after a particularly difficult shot and I decided that I would data gather, shooting under different conditions over a period of weeks, set days, stood, sat, with and without an agent. I am an evidence based creature and though we thought we knew what the results would show I needed to prove it. I am incredibly grateful to the brave souls who agented and put up with the tantrums because the idea of sitting was still giving in.
Meeting with the physio and looking at the information and agreeing a way forward. Discussion with him and coach as to what we felt the best way to build a stool was and my county team mates set about creating my stool which I hated with a passion, so I must thank them, though I think in truth they enjoyed having a reason to get the power tools out!
So my mind! What do you do when your mind doesn’t want to do what your body needs? Well the county team gave me a talking to, the physio gave me a talking to and a couple of the wheelchair archers who I have agented for sat me down and asked why I wouldn’t give myself what I gave others? Fair question but I wasn’t really in a place to hear it!
As we approached the end of the 19/20 indoor season I found myself struggling to complete even a single round and had several weeks that saw me withdraw part way through competitions, leaving me crying for very different reasons. My last competition on my feet saw me complete the round barefoot, the judge knows me well and knew what was happening to my mental health and with the support of my county team mates I was given very strict rules that allowed me to shoot and finish the session, something I will forever be grateful for 🤗❤️🏹
Spring 2020 – covid! Turns out this was great timing for Bert, I named the stool to help bond and reduce the resentment, going out when there was almost no one around to get used to the idea and feel of sitting because once people started seeing me they all had questions and opinions – unless you are supporting someone – hold your tongue!
I have cried on ranges, walked out of spaces and had a torrid time, why? My mind still sees sitting as giving in, people say things and enforce the things in my head! What business is it of anyone’s what a person requires in the way of adaptation to shoot? Consider carefully what questions you might ask and also how you ask them, you will rarely be aware of another person’s struggles.
I have learned that as my stool has been tweaked and made to fit me that a substitute can actually hinder me, grateful to the club that leant me theirs when I left Bert at home and it was a valuable lesson.
Outdoors 21 saw me dig in and fight for my right to shoot, as people tried to tell me that if I needed a shooting stool I had no place on the line! What did that determination give me? I finally, by working my backside off to prove myself to others achieved the elusive first class 🥳
It was also in this summer that I found flight, I cannot put into words how much I love flight, it allows me to stand to shoot as there is a very small number of arrows. More than that I am surrounded by the most supportive group of archers, which was so important whilst having to justify my right to shoot target archery.
Indoors 21/22 and outdoors 22 saw other things happening and whilst fighting to prove I had a place on the line the other things happening in my personal life saw me come incredibly close to quitting – life, archery – everything – my beloved sport was no longer a safe place for me to be.
Without a doubt the volunteers who I share the range with at national and international events for AGB and the flight archers kept me shooting.
I was invited to attend a field course and had an incredibly welcoming group of EFAA members allow me to share their day, but as I joined them on their journey through the trees (I was not shooting) it became apparent that the unpredictable nature of the spasms I get in my shoulder mean I will not be safe on a field course, but I would most definitely recommend trying it.
The end of the season saw me grind out the scores amongst the tears to hold onto my first class, but sadly not all ranges are now safe for me to shoot at from a mental health point of view, but I do have several ranges with shooting buddies scattered across them and of course March 23 will see Integr8Archery Club start shooting on our range.
My indoors 22/23 season has been suspended due to personal matters within the family but I am looking forward to getting back at it, though there are some issues with my back which has deteriorated further in recent months, that will need looking at but I have those 8 days at Dunster to look forward to and certainly provide the motivation I need to get out there, that and the flight season will most definitely be high points of summer 23.
Why have I shared all of this? If you have read my blogs you will certainly know some of it already.
The aims of Integr8Archery CIC and Integr8Archery Club are to make our sport open and accessible for everyone, to welcome anyone who wants to try our sport, which is – in my opinion- one of the most accessible and inclusive sports there is, but also to support those who want to stay but face challenges to be able to continue shooting.
It has been a privilege to help those who have allowed me to, some have remained as Friends of Integr8Archery where we support each other. In person on ranges, or virtually in the devices we carry in our pockets and one click away so if we wobble a message from the range to one of us at home keeps us shooting.
Some of those I am allowed to support come to me because they have heard about me from talking to someone I have helped, some approach me on a range to enquire about Bert the shooting stool, but some have come to me through my role as regional safeguarding officer and for 9 of those it’s about their ongoing wellbeing and care. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help, there will be someone you can trust if you are brave enough to ask and I do not underestimate the courage it can take to reach out.
Without a doubt I am probably proudest of using my experience, physically and mentally to help and support others and I am so pleased that people are beginning to recognise that if you are wearing an Integr8Archery shirt that you belong to a group of supportive, like minded archers and you might be on your own on that shooting line but you carry all of us with you.