Week 50 – Disability, inclusion, mental health, support – bringing all the work together ❤️🏹

So, I am excited and have news to share, some explaining too! It’s long but you have had some short blogs the last few weeks 😉😂

As you will know I am a huge advocate of disability, mental health and inclusion. I passionately believe that sport can help change lives, I have seen it and I have been a part of it. It takes commitment not just from the individual but those working and supporting to make it happen! Now I am in a place to pull several things together so grab a cuppa and let me tell you 🤗

You will be aware that both myself and my son have disability – his epilepsy, mine doesn’t have a one word label!
I’ll explain me a little –

My bones are twisted, puts a lot of strain on my joints which don’t all work or sit quite how they should, at 20 I was offered the choice of two surgeries to try and help my left knee – one was on the knee itself and especially the ligaments around it to try and make it easier, or more radically they could plate and screw some bones in my legs to set about straightening them and see if that improved things! They were not entirely convincing about what would come of the more major surgery and if there would be any improvement at all so I went for the knee option, and following that initial surgery have had a further three surgeries on that knee.

I am clumsy, my balance and co-ordination vary but I can fall over fresh air and have literally been stood talking and just fallen as my balance goes! Remember – I meet life with humour so sure make sure I am ok but we are going to laugh at these things!

Broken bones – feet, hands, fingers and my left shoulder blade!

Nerve damage from various things lower back, thoracic spine, feet, left lower leg and for added “fun” some sciatica!

I often say everything is fine, my left elbow and my eyelashes don’t hurt! Remember – humour! But pain is definitely one of the biggest barriers I face and I am incredibly grateful to have a superb physio in Ben 😊

I have a hearing impairment in my right ear as a result of damage, for a while there was talk of metal plates in my skull but I managed to avoid that. It is one of the reasons you might see me in my bobble hat even in summer, drafts hurt it and impact the ability to hear, hats stop drafts.

Several health issues, the two that impact my shooting – asthma which can be triggered by a number of things but especially heat, cold and hay fever – did I mention I am allergic to straw bosses 😂😂😂😂🫣🫣😱 I have a blood disorder, we ruled out the serious stuff that kills you but I am left with a reduced ability to store folate and iron, so I eat a lot of food that helps this and take some industrial grade, prescription top ups, but this can create huge fatigue and on bad days being awake is an incredible challenge – let alone moving!

Mental health? Anxiety and PTSD pretty much see that as a daily thing, some days I can plan for months, some days let’s see if I can breathe for 10 minutes. I have been to the very darkest places in my mind, in fact, they literally sit there daily, but when things are going well, I’m just carrying it with me, as I brave the world and smile. I am blessed that my counsellor is awesome and a tight circle of friends are there constantly 🤗🥰

Why do I tell you all of this, it’s so that you can gain a little understanding for why disability, inclusion and mental health are such an important focus for me.

Archery has given me ways to help my mind, if I don’t clear the messy head space those arrows are going nowhere useful. The process and routine are soothing, calming. Ranges are my safe space.

That’s not to say it’s easy, I have been challenged by people who have questioned my right to be there, on a range, on a shooting line – apparently I look ok – so why do I need to sit to shoot, have an agent? On a good day I might explain a little and try and educate, on a hard day I may tell you it’s none of your business, on a rough day, I might step away, think you are right, I have no place, I am an inconvenience and spiral, if we go back to my longest spell in the house, I literally didn’t leave for many months, long before you could get everything delivered to the house. Every day I have a process to step out of the door, might your unthinking words shut me inside?

However there are also many, many amazing people to be found on ranges who welcome, and support and help, these people question but because they want to understand so they can help, so very different.

Over the last several years I have done a lot of work around health and inclusion and supporting people to step on to a range, but also in other sports too. It’s amazing to watch people try something that they thought would reject them and find they are welcome, archery is one of the most adaptable sports there is and I am lucky to have friends who have worked in many areas, I find it unlikely that if you can tell me what you need that I can’t find it for you in that pool of amazing people.

I am told that I think outside the box, I just see me as me, but it’s definitely helped when thinking of ways to help people come to the range, our own voice in our mind can be the biggest battle we face and it takes different things for different people to push their own boundaries.

I have supported existing archers who have found themselves in a place where maybe they might have to consider their ability to stay on the range, some it’s been adaptions, some changing bow styles and some moving to seated. It’s always a privilege when someone reaches out and says can we talk, you might be able to help me, I know that reaching out for help isn’t easy. Some take the information and go off and do their thing, some keep in touch and some remain as part of our growing support network to give and receive support on our tough days.

With all of this and more in mind, I can now announce a plan we have.

Who are we? Let me explain.

I work with lots of coaches to deliver my projects and support groups who want sustainable archery, getting it set up and then mentoring in the long term. It works, our reviews show this. Northamptonshire carers contacted me to help put archery back into their disability inclusive sports sessions that they run for children with disabilities and their families.
The coaches who help me with this are Nick and Jackie from Towcester Archery Club and a great job they do too.

Early in 2023 I had some conversations (thankful as ever for the technology that allows us to be in different spaces and hold meetings and conversations) around a number of different ideas we have and things we can do together with Nick Wilson, who many know as the Disabled Adventurer. We made arrangements for him to come to Towcester Archery Club who kindly offered to host me, Nick and other exiting archers who wanted to come and shoot and talk about the impact of our sport on their disability and mental health.

Nick had a great time as did coach Nick, this was also a great example of how sometimes we fear what we don’t know, I have seen people turned away from clubs because of their disability and speaking with coaches, clubs and archers I am firmly of the belief that whilst a minority is about exclusion for many it’s the worry that a lack of knowledge might mean they can’t help or what if they injure a person? However we’re as many don’t say that and don’t ask for help with improving their own knowledge they just say no. I have managed to get the odd coach to discuss this and been able to link them with coaches who have the knowledge to mentor them.

This very idea now sees Integr8Archery and Towcester Archery Club come together to offer Nick Wilson a bespoke beginners course and coach Nick who was worried about his own knowledge is taking the opportunity to learn alongside him. The 2 Nicks will learn from each other and I have some coaches experienced with a huge variety of disabilities waiting to help amend support and coach Nick is attending the disability inclusion training being hosted in the midlands. I am excited to see what comes of this for both of them.

When I posted that I was holding the session and invited people along, I was blown away by the messages that I received from archers who would like the opportunity to have a safe space, where occasionally they can come together in an inclusive setting regardless of their physical, learning disabilities or mental health, where they don’t have to explain why they do x,y,z. But to be in an environment with others who love this sport, who enjoy shooting and the things it gives us, but who occasionally feel isolated or uncomfortable and we accept that the person who creates that doesn’t always know and we aren’t always strong enough to speak out.

So after some conversations around what we can do, Towcester Archery Club and Integr8Archery will be hosting sessions inviting those who consider they have a disability and or want a space where they can feel their mental health is safe, to come together and shoot every 2 months. We are just pulling together the first list of dates and will announce these in the next few days along with some information around what we have planned for some of those dates along with the ones that we can just chat and shoot and share a cuppa. There will also be instructions on how to join us.

I am excited as I am not aware of anything else offered that is similar to this so I think Towcester Archery Club and Integr8Archery are hopefully going to show what we can achieve and others may set up similar sessions.

So watch this space over the next few days and follow the instructions if you would like to join us, let’s grow this community I have started, for archers who want support and also for coaches who want to learn how to help. Thank you so very much to Dean and Nick for your help and support so far, let’s create change together 🥰🏹❤️