I often get asked how I am here, now, today with all these hats! Literally and figuratively 😜
So I thought I would explain a little, though many of you know already.
As a child I took along while to learn to walk, my mum was told it was because I was on the heavy side, well in actual fact when someone eventually took the time to investigate what was going on with my knees, it was discovered that some of my bones are not straight and as a result some of my joints are not quite how they should be. This resulted in me being offered my first surgery and I could go radical – literally an offer to have bones cut, plates attached and general horribleness with no promises of improvement but certainly some risks or the simpler offer of general poking and tidying in my knee and some ligaments cut to help with the knee. Call me a coward but I opted for the simpler offer. I then had surgeries every 5-7 years on my left knee until they stopped around 13 years ago.
Then there was a huge traumatic event in 1996 which damaged bits of me, bones, nerves, ligaments, etc. Added to the general clumsiness of the last (almost) 49 years and a series of broken bones in various places but my fingers, foot, shoulder blade and a couple of car accidents that have impacted my back, shoulder and neck and pretty much most of me hurts a lot of the time. Years of avoiding painkillers as a result of watching someone with addiction means I have damaged nerves to help me ignore the pain.
At school my general clumsiness saw me in goal for football and netball and an eager participant in unihoc basically a fast and furious indoor 4 a side hockey. I did briefly have a place on the lacrosse team but I was taken off that and the less said about that the better! 😬
I was not built for running – fast or cross country – though as an adult I have completed a learn to run course and did regularly attend park run with the children, completed a 10km that ended in the Olympic stadium and, along with Rose took part in a race at Walt Disney World which I highly recommend.
So I became an adult understanding that sport was not for me, school had tried and failed to find anything I thrived at.
Fast forward to becoming a parent, I finally found someone who was brave enough to teach me to ride a bike 🚲- my first physiotherapist all those years earlier had told me he had me on the bike because he’d never seen anyone pedal how I did!
Jack tried many sports and eventually asked of he could try archery and we had some very real concerns over if he would be accepted with his epilepsy. In actual fact I have no idea that we would all be accepted and welcomed in such a way.
Since he needed an adult his dad decided he might as well join in and they completed their beginners course together. At the time I focused on Rose who was busy grading her way through her taekwondo belts and though she wanted to shoot with Jack, had some growing to do before she was able to draw a bow, though she was often found on a range trying, just in case she was now big enough!
In 2017 she was finally big enough and I was quite happy enjoying the sounds on the range whilst reading my book. Until I decided that I was going to do my beginners course in early 2018 just to avoid looking after other people’s children. Except I actually enjoyed it and with the understanding of how my body was broken I picked up a compound bow and set about shooting, we were fairly certain I had about 2 years in my shoulder. My intention was to cram as much as possible into that time.
I certainly did as I found myself at competitions week after week and was stunned when I was asked to shoot for the county! Worried that the squad would wonder why I was there I anxiously made my way and found the most amazing and accepting group of people I have ever been blessed to be around.
2019 saw me begin to breakdown and also for the first time ever, sit down with a physiotherapist who looked at all of me at once, I am grateful to the NHS but they have only ever looked at whichever has been the critical bit in the moment.
2020 saw me eventually accept that if I wanted to carry on I had to sit to shoot, not a process I easily accepted but I had lots of help from lots of people. Covid gave me the time to work my way through the mental process of change.
2021 saw me face the very real possibility of loosing my sport and a huge mental breakdown. Again some amazing people helped me through this too.
2022? well the head is in a better place but that earlier mentioned nerve damage has progressed rapidly and the issues of not being able to hold things well and my shoulder breaking down have created some issues and so change finds its way to me again, and the long waits for new hospital appointments and tests.
Throughout all of this I have been giving my time in lots of ways at club, county, regional and national levels – learning incredible amounts about my sport, how it works and how accessible, inclusive and adaptable it is. For 3 years I was an Archery GB ambassador and started to grown the work I had been doing to get people into the sport I love but also helping people stay who were already here. Some faced changed – I know how hard that can be mentally, and some had not had the warm welcome that we had received and felt there was no place for them. Over time, as these projects grew, it was repeatedly stated that I was creating too much work, unsure how because I was doing it or sharing it with coaches etc who were interested.
In 2022 I resigned as an ambassador and a few months later, after being told that I had a place and a purpose and I could do it alone I created Integr8archery CIC and shortly after Integr8archery club.
I work hard on those same aims, inclusion, accessibility and diversity. For those who haven’t picked up a bow and those who think they may have to leave.
I still hold club and regional roles whilst volunteering my time to Archery GB whenever possible for completions both national and international.
I am privileged to work with many groups and enjoy it all though it can be overwhelming at times being on my own, but I have a trusted group of coaches who work with me.
Why did I think that it was worth waiting for today for this?
My belief in this sport and what it can offer comes from that first experience when we were welcomed by Wellingborough Open Archery Club (WOAC). When the club was created all those many years ago the word Open was included because they aimed to be inclusive for everyone. Amongst the many people there was Pat Comber who first supported my son, his dad, then our daughter and eventually me. From picking up my first bow – the controversial beginner who went straight to compound! My early selection to county and then the changes I have had to make. Whilst at the same time listening to my ideas for driving inclusion and spreading our sport. Always believing and encouraging and inspiring with the conversations about setting up this club to be open, to creating a disability club and a ladies only club. All those years before when inclusion was certainly not mainstream agenda.
So, yes, today seems incredibly fitting to explain what I do and why and where some of that inspiration came from and why it will be hard work and draining but also a fight worth taking on, because I was shown what can happen when someone opens the door to sport for you. Me – that fat child from the 70’s who has a sport that accepted her and my son with the challenges that epilepsy brings and my shy little girl – in fact as a family, shown a welcome that makes us give so much to the sport in lots of way, but by making it welcoming.
We will miss Pat, not just as a family but the wider archery community too but I shall see what I can continue to achieve on our joint belief that we can bring this sport to anyone. ❤️🏹