Archery GB and Help for Heroes have teamed up to search for potential serving or veteran military athletes who have the potential to win gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The team spent the weekend (1/2 Aug) in Plymouth with hopeful archers from the area and further afield at an indoor range at Devonport Naval Base and an outdoor range at the MOD’s Bull Point sports ground in the city.
Some participants have been honing their skills as part of the archery club at Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre. Others have already taken part in competitions for wounded forces such as the Invictus Games in London and the Warrior Games in the USA. Some were complete novices hoping that coaches may spot a talent for archery.
Royal Navy Leading Hand Gemma Dacey, who is serving with Hasler Rehabilitation Unit in Plymouth and uses the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Devonport Naval Base, suffers from back and leg pain as a result of complex regional pain syndrome, which developed from an ankle injury. She is in constant pain and sometimes has to use a wheelchair to get around. But her physical wounds, while more obvious, are the lesser of the things she has to overcome.
Gemma faces a daily battle against a hidden wound; anxiety. She struggles to cope with crowds and noise, but fortunately is able to recognise when she is feeling unsure and can put into place coping strategies that she has been taught, including guided meditation with an audio track.
For Gemma, archery has proved to be the ultimate distraction: “I’d describe my anxiety as feeling like I’ve got pins and needles in my brain,” said Gemma. “Everything goes fuzzy. From there I know I’m going to drop. My breathing changes and the slightest touch from anywhere, even a blade of grass, will send me into uncontrollable twitches. I become really sensitive to everything in my environment; touch, noises; my body registers it 100 times more than what I’d feel normally.
“When I know I’m getting anxious I normally take myself out the situation. I need to be alone, I use guided meditation. It helps you recognise what’s going on so you can control it rather than changing what you’re doing.
“I feel at home when I’m at the archery range, it’s just different. It’s like an escape; it’s the only time I feel like me. It’s strange. It requires so much mental concentration and you have a process you’ve got to go through. So many parts of your body you have to rely on to get the shot. I don’t feel awkward when I’m there, I just feel normal. It’s nice to finally have something to concentrate on after being told you can’t do the sports you used to do and you used to love. It’s a chance to get back into it.”
The two-day archery camps have been visiting all of the Help for Heroes’ Recovery Centres across the country on various dates throughout the year with the final camp taking place this month in Catterick.
Coaches were on hand to offer elite coaching, discussing and putting into practice correct techniques. Archers were also able to obtain classification and guidance on next steps, whether that is at an elite or recreational level.
Dave Wilson from Plymouth who took part said: “This is a good exercise for us as we get to learn a little bit more. You can’t do everything by yourself so having Archery GB coaches teaching us is great. I find having somebody here who has that knowledge to show you how to improve very constructive. It encourages you to do it better. Everybody who has been here has benefitted.”
Following the first series of camps, individuals that show potential at performance level will continue with a three phase assessment.
Help for Heroes Sports Recovery and Archery GB are working in partnership to ensure that wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans have access to the best coaching and support on offer. The Target Tokyo programme is streamlining the provision into a seamless pathway, ensuring all individuals are best supported at all levels.
The joint camp forms part of the Help for Heroes partnership with the British Paralympic Association to introduce military personnel to Paralympic Sport and provide them with opportunities to get involved.
Jayne Kavanagh, Help for Heroes Performance Pathway Manager said: “Not only is this a fantastic partnership, which will hopefully unearth talented archers with potential to medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, this provides those wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans an opportunity to use the sport of archery in their recovery journey. Not everyone is destined to be a Paralympic athlete, and that is why the partnership will exist to develop talent where appropriate, whilst also encouraging and supporting others to take up archery on a recreational level.”
Archery GB Performance Director Sara Symington said: “Archery GB & Help for Heroes are joining forces to ‘springboard’ the World Class Paralympic Program into the Tokyo cycle with a targeted talent initiative. As a confirmed 2020 Paralympic sport, Archery GB have already demonstrated a strong track record of accelerating the development of athletes with Paralympic potential, & with the support of Help for Heroes we hope to unearth the next tranche of talent for Tokyo & beyond.”
Help for Heroes has been involved with Sports Recovery since 2008, and in the past year alone have offered 300 events across 50 different sports enabling over 2,100 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans to take part in adaptive sports from grassroots through to performance level.
For more information on the support available from Help for Heroes in the South West, please call 01752 562179 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.