If you were asked – what do you get out of archery? What would you say? If you were asked – what would you loose if it was taken from you? What would you say?
Have a think, you don’t have to tell me, you can, but you don’t have to.
So now you have thought and you think you know the answer.
Someone tries to take it, what would you do? Let them? Or would you fight to keep what it gives you?
Sound dramatic? Or it’s Saturday and you don’t like thinking too hard after being at work all week 🙃
I am asked often about what I get from what I do, there must be a reason I give between 20-40 hours a week for free on top of family, working full time and my own archery.
I know what archery can give, the ability to calm a stressed mind. My work sees me deal with complex, stressful situations. Highly emotive and draining some days. I can list the situations that have meant I go home and can’t clear the things I dealt with that day and have brought home with me, maybe I will sit and cry, drink a bottle of wine, some way of trying to deal with what the day brought me. If we go back to 2018 when I passed my beginners course, I had been shooting only a few weeks and sent a message home to say I was going to be late, I was headed into a debrief, I had taken a suicide call, it had ended tragically. 45 minutes later I received a text with a photo of my bow set up on the waiting line – “Molly is waiting for you when you finish”.
2 hours of shooting, if I don’t clear my mind those arrows aren’t going anywhere near where they are supposed to. Went home, ate dinner with my family and relaxed, no crying, no alcohol. My bow has provided that service often, she demands that I clear my head, she is selfish, if I do not give her my entire focus she misbehaves. That – that is what she gives me, the ability to let go of what my mind is carrying.
It’s also given me, my people, we are all a little quirky, those of us who fling arrows, so for the most part, we are quite accepting of the things that make each of us different. That cannot be overrated, the ability to be yourself, to let your personality free. Are you a literal thinker, a logical mind, someone who loves rules, repetition and routine. Ours is a sport made for minds who thrive on structure. It’s part of why the pandemic had such a huge impact when we were locked in and for periods of time kept off the range. That loss of routine and ability to have a space where we empty our minds. Society demands things, wants you to fit in boxes created by others, ranges and archers let you be you, with no demands or explanations needed.
There is no secret of what I have gone through on a physical, pain basis to shoot and remain shooting, the battle with my mind to sit to shoot. I have told the story and been invited into other people’s struggles as a result – surely a privilege.
But, having fought that struggle to remain and shoot. I was told very clearly by a person who I had trust in, that I had no place on a range, any range. No role in the sport in any capacity as an archer, a volunteer, project manager ….. any role. That I should walk away. They used information that our friendship gave them, over a period of 6 months to really make incredibly brutal statements about why I should walk away. November 21 to May 22 – words can create damage, and how they are delivered can create so much more.
In addition there were other things happening that were creating massive issues with my ability to feel safe on a range, issues being created by my past that had been raised and were part of what that person was using too, along with others who do not know what they are referring to but know there’s something.
All of this combined to put me in a place where I was my most mentally vulnerable since 1996. Where should I go for my mind? The range, but of course it had been made clear that there was no place for me there. So I deteriorated massively, nowhere to go, nowhere to be safe.
Remember that I said in my space I found my people? Well they were still there, I thought I lost them with my ranges and my sport. Nope! They held on, and wouldn’t let go, even though I had. A small group who together helped me find where I can go when I need safe shooting space – safe for my head. I now have a list of ranges that when I am at my most vulnerable I can walk on and each has a couple of people who will stand beside me and shoot with no need for me to explain but will just be there, whenever I need them. Others will sit with me by the power of the virtual world in the middle of the night and listen to me talk and cry and there have been literally days and nights when it’s been just about reminding me to breathe.
In the middle of all of this, because it wasn’t widely known what I was going through, though many had seen me cry on the shooting line, I took a call from someone I knew who needed help, broken down mentally and need support, someone who had used me before in my capacity as a safeguarding officer. They were getting help from the right people medically but needed someone who understood what the loss of their sport meant. Well I certainly understood that! So in the middle of my mess I could help someone else.
Then a chat about my future in the sport outside of my own shooting, a talk that saw me 24 hours later with a non profit company and an application to the government for a Community Interest Company. My projects reviewed and decisions made about my way forward. That same night a discussion about my clothes, where were my crazy leggings? More decisions made there – a reminder that this sport, with my people, accept me and my crazy 😂 so yes they would be back on the range in their wild technicolour 🥰
So the work began, to claim my right to be on the range and to be in my sport and to rebuild the safe spaces for my mind to breathe.
The outdoor season was torrid, I love competition, I am not interested in anyone else’s scores, just shooting against myself. However in the middle of that is the magic that is my flight season, you want to be accepted? There you will be truly welcome with no fear of what anyone will say. My flight family are, for the most part approximately 200 miles away, but there always. Those competition’s definitely gave me positive focus. Of course, 2022 also saw me shoot the amazing footbow which it turns out makes me laugh, really laugh with every shot fired.
Indoor season, we had been told the devastating news in the summer that dad had cancer and it was terminal, and so we focused and come the end of the summer we really had to put our focus as a family here, we were going to squeeze what we could from however little time we had and we knew it was going to be short. So I declared my indoor season cancelled, no competitions, no regular training, me and my clingy band doing what we could to keep muscles from quitting but only rarely shooting an arrow. My archery family reaching out when I needed it, but respecting every time I said I needed to focus on family. I will forever be grateful for that, when I was able to walk onto a range with my bow, just picking up like I hadn’t been away.
When the time came and we lost the amazing person that was my dad, I was away for weeks. My archery family, staying with virtually – calls, messages, hours on FaceTime and someone actually driving many miles to just sit and check that I was ok.
I have been home for almost 4 weeks, and have managed to shoot with some regularity. It’s been in this time that it has hit me dad has gone, he’s not there to tell how things are going with my little business or my shooting, those weekly chats have gone.
What I do know is this, my life is a mess and I am dealing with all that has happened in the last 17 months and the history that has been dragged back into my life. However my safe space that I lost and needed and was given back to me by my fight and the help of those archers who always accepted me, is back. It’s mine, I have claimed it. For sure there are a small number of places I will never return to with a bow, that will never be mentally safe for me again, but that is the price I will pay for what is now my calm space, that with the work that I have put in since June has now become a calmer, mentally safer place than it ever was even before.
Also, whilst I am celebrating the return of this, that I have survived and stand here stronger in my archery than I ever was, if I am careful next weekend I may actually achieve something I never have before so 🤞🏻 because it will, for me, be a reward that going through that very worst of times I made it. It will also be something to show those who have stood by me throughout this, that maybe it was worth it for them too, and to those who told me I have no place, that one strongest voice, well you know what? I do have a place, the rest of my life is in a state of carnage that I am taking day by day but here, on the range and in my sport, I do have a place and you have no right to take it from me and no idea of what you almost cost me.
Thank you to every single person who has given me anything this last 17 months, I can now say that yes, I do know what my sport gives me, and yes I will fight for my right to be on a range as much as I have battled for others in the last 6 years.
Maybe, just maybe, next Saturday evening I can pop back and tell you that I have achieved something that I didn’t know I would finish this season with, if I do it may seem small to some but for me it will be massive. 🤗
The point of this, don’t ever give up because someone tells you that you must, and that if you need it, this archery family is full of the most amazing people who will help you if you allow them to.