Spotlight On... Archery
It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!
Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.
In the next part of the series, we spoke to Helen Sharpe, an Archery GB Club Ambassador who went over and above to support disabled and vulnerable archers during lockdown.
Archery has been contested at every summer Paralympics since the Games were first held in 1960 and Phoebe Paterson Pine (pictured) claimed a stunning gold for ParalympicsGB in Tokyo earlier this week.
As a passionate archery advocate, Helen told us about her journey into the sport and why she thinks it is one to get involved with.
Tell us about how you got into archery and your progression to where you are today
“My son Jack wanted to try a sport where if he succeeded or failed, and his epilepsy interfered with that, it was purely him that was going to be impacted. He asked me to find a club where he could try archery or fencing, and we were surprised to find 14 clubs local to where we live where we could go.
“We were worried about his seizures and if they’d want to put what is essentially a very dangerous weapon in his hand, but they were so welcoming. One day I gave it a go and I found that being at the archery range was quite soothing. I didn’t embarrass my son which was my first priority!
“My children are quite good at it and enter lots of competitions. Now I’ve been shooting for three years. I did a beginners course to start with and then entered my first competition a few months later. I’ve done around 30 competitions and I love it!
“When I’d been shooting for a year they started the ambassador programme, which invites people to apply if they have a passion for the sport and encourages people who haven’t tried it to get a taste of it.”
Why archery over other sports?
“I have issues with arthritis and joints, but there are different types of bows for different issues you might have.”
What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport?
“I wish I’d known what it was going to give me. I am a clumsy person, I have a lot of accidents, and as a child I found that sports like hockey, football and netball weren’t forgiving. Archery is a sport that is still open to you, even if you’re not a naturally athletic person.
“I wish I’d found it at the age Jack had because what it’s given me over the past three years, it could have given me 30, 40 years ago. I wish I’d known how welcoming it was going to be and how accepting it was going to be. Archery doesn’t judge at all.”
What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far?
“Because of my age I can’t see the arrows when they hit the target, so I listen to the noise of the arrow hitting the board. At competitions there are many people doing the same thing so it’s hard to tell whether it’s my arrow or someone else's.
“One time I had shot my six arrows and I was fairly confident I’d heard all six. I went off happily to go and collect them and they had hit, but they’d hit the number at the top - which was pink and yellow!
“That was one of the silliest things I’ve ever done! At competitions things are quite serious, but when you’re coaching there is a lot of banter!”
What's the best thing about archery?
“Because we are a sport that welcomes anybody, you might just want to come along for a couple of hours. We do have archers who hit a dozen arrows, and then sit for two hours with a cup of tea. It’s the social side they come for more than the actual sport, but they know they’re welcome.
“Often you have three or four generations at the club. You might have a seven-year-old shooting, but they’ve been brought by someone who’s 80 and they sit there with a cup of tea and share their knowledge with the younger archers.”
What’s something only an archer would know or appreciate?
“I think it is the art of repetition, which sounds immensely boring as you’re doing the same thing over and over again. It sounds incredibly dull, but I can guarantee that if you shoot 1,000 arrows they’re not all going to go to the same place!
“I don’t think people realise the variety within the sport. I do target archery, but indoors and outdoors are different and have different types of targets.”
What would you say to someone considering trying archery?
“If a particular club is not for you, don’t stop - find somewhere else. Be brave enough to make contact and find out, and go on social media.
“You can also contact the National Governing Body and ask about local clubs, and whether there is an ambassador to welcome you in. Ninety-nine per cent of clubs will welcome you in with open arms and a smile!”
Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.
Want to give archery a try? Check out our club finder!