Winter training

The clocks have just gone forward and spring is just around the corner…apparently. (As I type this, there are weather warnings for 50mph+ winds!)

This is the first winter I have ever trained through and, as I discovered, there are a whole host of challenges that the cold weather brings.  Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. The wind is not your friend. Learning to adjust your sight and/or aim off is a must.
  2. No matter how many layers you’re already wearing, putting on one more is usually a good idea.
  3. All of those layers will probably make your forearm at least half an inch thicker – don’t be surprised if the string hits it more than usual. And learn to keep your form when wearing all those extra layers.
  4. If you have no sensation in your feet and legs, make sure you keep them warm and check them during the day as they’ll be like blocks of ice if you don’t.
  5. Having an indoor training venue would make life so much easier but there are virtually no venues locally that can accommodate a distance of 70m.

All of the above apply when you’re shooting in conditions like this…minus 2 degrees with a strong wind!

Shooting in snow at Lilleshall

As you can probably tell, I found winter training challenging!  However I do think it has made me a better archer.

Staying dedicated over the winter season has also meant that I made two important achievements – getting my Bowman classification and achieving Paralympic qualifying scores for the first time! There have also been lots of equipment changes…but I’ll save that for another time. And now that spring is here, I can’t wait to finally get outdoors and smash it this season 🙂

What a Year!

The eve of a new year is always a time for reflection for me and, as I look back on 2014, I can’t help but think what a rollercoaster it’s been.

I started the year working in PR (as I had been for the past 12 years) and thinking that I should take up a new hobby to help me get out more and meet new people.  Little did I realise that just 9 months later, that hobby would be my full time occupation!  Not just that, but it would lead me to join one of the best Para-archery teams in the world, make fantastic new friends and open the door to so many exciting new experiences.

This year brought a lot of ‘firsts’ for me and I’m sure 2015 will bring many more, the biggest being my first international competition.  While I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead, I know it’s going to require a lot of hard work, dedication and discipline.  And I’m so ready for it! It’s all part of my journey to the Paralympics and I can’t wait for the great things that lie ahead.

I’d also like to thank all the people who have been an important part of this incredible year – my mother, for supporting me and my dreams no matter what; my boyfriend, for believing in me even when I don’t believe in myself; my coaches, for their patience and wisdom; and last but not least, my new sponsors who are helping me on my quest to be the best.  You know who you are and I can’t thank you all enough.

Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2015 is a fantastic year for you!

Winning the trophy for 'Most Improved' at the club's Xmas party

Winning the trophy for ‘Most Improved’ at the club’s Xmas party

A weekend of firsts

This weekend, I took part in the Combined National Indoor Championships which also happened to be my first big competition. And big it was!  62 bosses set up in Coventry’s Ricoh Arena was an impressive sight, as were the number of the UK’s top archers in attendance.  Most importantly for me, this was also my first time shooting as part of GB’s Para team.

Competing against the country’s best archers was a nerve-wracking affair and the sense of occasion got to me during the first half of the WA 18m round resulting in 4 misses and a ranking of 45 out of 62.  However, the halfway break gave me an opportunity to give myself a pep talk and the second half went much better – no misses and a ranking of 18.  Much better!  Overall, I scored 477 and came 38th so missed out on making it into the top 32 who went on to the second round.

The competition was a fantastic learning experience for me and gave me my first glimpse into what it might be like competing on an international level. There’s so much to consider beyond just your own shooting – temperature of the environment, proximity to other archers, lighting…I could go on and on. I loved the challenge and can only hope that this was the first of many competitions for me as part of GB’s excellent Para team.

Top moment of the day? That’s an easy one. It came when I shot a 29 end and Olympian Amy Oliver, who was on the same boss as me, congratulated me on my nice shooting.  Just goes to show that Para athletes can able bodied archers a run for their money!

And did I mention that I was the highest ranking para female? So proud of that. Onwards and upwards!

National Indoor Championships at Coventry's Ricoh Arena

National Indoor Championships at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena

Building the foundations

The thing I find most challenging about archery is something that probably doesn’t even really occur to most archers, especially those who are able bodied.  But it’s something that is so important in achieving a good shot that it should be the very foundation that your technique is built upon.

Posture.

My level of injury means that I have no use of my core muscles, which means achieving the correct posture is impossible without help from assistive devices.  In my case, it all comes down to my wheelchair backrest.

I usually shoot from a chair with a canvas back but this gives me a simultaneous backward and sideways lean once I’m at full draw, as you can see in this photo.

Taken during the Talent Festival League in August 2014, where I won a bronze medal.

Taken during the Archery GB Talent Festival League in August 2014, where I won the bronze medal.

Although this has worked for me up until now, things have to change to get better and more consistent. So over the last few weeks, I have been trialling various backrests in the hopes of finding one that will give me more support.

The first has wide lateral supports which help to prevent the sideways lean.  However, since the backrest itself is wider than I am, I found that I just slide along the back by a couple of inches until I hit the side support….not ideal.

Backrest with wide lateral supports

Backrest with wide lateral supports

However, my teammate recommended a new product which seems to have done the trick.  It’s a highly customisable back that sits me more upright while fitting snugly enough on the back that I don’t have anywhere to move once I’m in it.  The kind people at Gerald Simonds Healthcare are loaning me their demo model next week so that I can put it to the test at the National Indoor Championships in just over a week.  It’s a risky event to be testing something so important but as the saying goes, he who dares wins! Here’s hoping 🙂

The Next Level

Time is relative, or so they say, and last week proved the saying perfectly.  My name was put forward for consideration for the next phase of training and I was waiting to hear the outcome of that decision.  And. It. Took. Forever.

Each time an email popped into my inbox, my heart would jump.  Eventually the one I waiting for arrived – and the news was good.  I’d made it!!

So I’m now a full-time archer, training with the GB squad and being coached by some of the world’s top experts.  It’ll also mean more time at the training base, 175 miles away.  It’ll mean I can step my game to really start increasing those scores and improving my technique.  And I can’t wait for this next phase to start.  BRING IT ON!

How it all began

My archery adventure began in 2010, not long after I’d been injured in a road traffic accident. I was competing in Wheelpower’s annual Inter Spinal Unit games and it was the first time I’d been able to try lots of new sports that I could do in my wheelchair. I didn’t expect to be any good at archery but, as it turned out, I was! In fact, I ended up winning 1st place. You can still see a tiny photo of me on the Wheelpower homepage that was taken during that event 🙂wheelpower

I didn’t really have a chance to do much archery after that as I was focussing on getting back to work and living life. But then last year, I had a wonderful day out with a charity called Sportability where I got to do some archery and quadbiking. Remembering just how much fun I had doing it was exactly the kick I needed to look for a club to join. So, I found a club in Kent and bought my first bow.

Earlier this year, things stepped up a gear (or ten!) when I was accepted onto a fast-track talent programme with Archery GB. Since then, I’ve gone from shooting a Portsmouth round once a fortnight to shooting hundreds of arrows a week. I’ll be sharing my experiences as I train to make the GB para team and aim for gold.