A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “Sport”

I Can Stand the Rain

I have been sitting in a field again and it was great! I was actually there to do some archery but that seemed a secondary consideration to being outside … for a whole afternoon!

I hadn’t planned on staying for long, especially as I wasn’t sure I’d still be able to remember what to do! I thought I’d be able to just shoot a few arrows and watch everyone else while I supped my flask of coffee. But, no, a score sheet was thrust into my hand and suddenly I was doing maths again and trying to do some consistent shooting. Let’s just say the results were a bit mixed.

It rained too which was also lovely – honestly! It was a very fine drizzle but it just seemed to wake me up and it also underlined that I really wasn’t sitting inside for the first time in a while!

Okay, I’ll admit that we did all have to retreat into the club hut for a while but that provided an opportunity for a chat about the Tour of Anglesey. Funnily enough, two members of the archery club are also coming along on the Tour, as essential refreshment providers. I learnt some useful information about how more opportunities for shortcuts have been incorporated into the route. I think I’ll be availing myself of those (as well as the refreshments!). I’m getting excited about it now, especially as my energy levels are rising all the time (thankfully!).IMG_1024

As I left the archery field, I paused to appreciate the allotment on the other side of the path. I particularly like that there’s plenty of appropriate seating!

Fingers of Ice

I’ve actually been having withdrawal symptoms from not going to archery over the Christmas period! So, when the day dawned bright and clear I leapt (slight exaggeration) into life.

However, when I had to scrape the ice off the car windscreen I started to have slight doubts about how cold I’d get. I shook them away and drove to the archery field. I had further second thoughts when I struggled to screw my bow together because my fingers were already reluctant to work. But, I had got there and now my equipment was ready, so it would have been feeble to turn straight back. And the field did look rather beautiful with its covering of sparkling frost.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I agreed to take part in a short round of two dozen arrows at thirty yards and two dozen at twenty, thinking that would be fairly quick. Well, that thinking turned out to be wrong! Although the ends were quite speedy, I hadn’t factored in the loss of arrows by all shooters. I don’t know if more went astray due to the cold (and freezing fingers) but those that did skidded madly across the frozen grass and (so I am informed!) were very hard to find.  There were plenty of people shooting at eighty and a hundred yards too and they had a particularly large radius to search.

So, there was more stamping of feet and desperate warming up of hands than I had been counting on. It was bitingly cold and the bright sun faded very disappointingly. As someone said, it was a lovely day for a walk … less so for archery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All around us, people packed up as quickly as they could, hauling targets away very smartly. The field was suddenly hugely depleted. However, at our target, the two of us who remained were determined to finish. It became a race against the cold. Would my fingers seize up completely? Would my brain, eye and hand coordinate sufficiently to be able to shoot? Could I add up my score? Did I care?!

Once finished, I scuttled off as fast as I could, with hurried goodbyes to those even hardier souls still remaining. I have a vague recollection of a mediocre score but that doesn’t really matter. I am far more proud of the fact that I actually managed to complete my round and provide a score! I did get frozen to the bone in the process but felt amazingly awake when I got home.

I persuaded Pete that a fire during the day was justified and spent the afternoon curled up in front of it thawing out, and felt suddenly rather exhausted!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Things Are Starting To Add Up

archers by the river

archers by the river

Archery involves maths! Who knew?! There I was, sitting quietly and waiting for my arrows to be returned to me, when I was handed a score card. Then the scores were shouted down the field to me and I had to insert them into the relevant sections. No problem – but each set of half dozen scores has to be added up, then each total has to be added to the next half dozen total and so on until you get an overall score for a set of three dozen arrows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, I’m quite happy to do a little bit of mental maths … but I was less so after having been shooting for half an hour or so already. I suddenly realised how hard it is to combine physical activity with mental activity when messages aren’t getting about the body as efficiently as they might. However, I wasn’t going to admit this (!), so I took a deep breath and forced my brain into action!

Actually, having a scorecard and a score to aim for – my first badge was at stake! – made it a whole lot more fun and I am way too pleased to report that I earned that badge! I think the last time I was awarded a badge, I was in the Brownies!

my first badge

my first badge

No sooner had I reached this goal, than I was set another one … shooting from thirty yards rather than from twenty as I had been doing. Boy, is that a whole lot further! You can see the arrow quivering through the air as it decides where to land. You shoot from the further distance, then bring the target closer, and shoot again from twenty yards – which suddenly seems reassuringly close!

There are other targets scattered about the field, and I asked how far away they were – up to eighty or a hundred yards! Well, I shall just ignore those for now!

I realise that my posts have been predominately about archery recently, but we are hoping to get out on the tandem over the Christmas holiday period. In the meantime, archery is a brilliant excuse to sit in a field for a couple of hours without anyone thinking you are odd!

the packhorse bridge which leads to adventures

packhorse bridge leading to archery field

Field Studies

On the last couple of weekends I’ve been combining both shooting and being outdoors. I can report that it is a winning combination! The first Sunday was one of those perfect crisp (freezing!) autumn days, whilst the second was mild, with a comforting smell of fallen leaves in the air.

practice targets

practice targets

I kept pinching myself that I was sitting outside all that time, in beautiful surroundings, chatting and shooting arrows every so often. The archery club is situated in a field next to a stream, accessed by a packhorse bridge, with a hillside rising up to one side. You could be in the middle of the countryside … oh, you are!

I have been contemplating the similarities between outdoor archery and going walking (bear with me!) For both you need to wrap up with layers of clothing (ready to be added and removed as you warm up and cool down), you need to pack sandwiches and a flask of warm coffee, you need a rucksack and walking poles (there is the packhorse bridge to negotiate, remember!), you sit admiring the scenery and you have a bit of a chat to people.

As to the archery itself (it’s not all chatting!), that’s been good fun. The trickiest bit, well, the first tricky bit, is getting your sight correct for the distance. It’s amazing how a little adjustment will stop the arrow from flying off target to somewhere near where you thought you were aiming.

I forgot to explain previously that the other main assistance I receive, in addition to a seat to shoot from, is that one of the other shooters will collect my arrows for me when they collect theirs, to save me trying to trek back and forth to the target. Well, generally, that’s not too onerous, and people are very good about it and also tactfully only tell me my scores when they are reasonable.


competing archers

competing archers

However, last weekend, I was mortified when one of my arrows went sailing over the target, over the back netting and into the field behind. The lady who had kindly collected my arrows the previous round set down her own arrows and womanfully collected my errant arrow … which involved climbing over a wall to get into the field. Then (I hardly dare admit this) I did it again in the next round and she scaled the wall for me again! I got my sight adjusted quickly after that!

One of the coaches was explaining to me that the club has been getting itself wheelchair accessible – there is a concreted area wide enough for wheelchairs to allow for seated shooting, and a broad footpath has been built up one side of the field. Discussions are taking place about improving the surface of the packhorse bridge, though there will be a limit to what can be done there. It was heartening to hear of this.

The club was open all day so you could stay as long as you wished, with targets set up for practice use whilst more experienced members participated in a competition further down the field. Coaches were available too, giving much welcome assistance even though we had completed the course.

It’s a mellow way to spend a couple of hours at the weekend and my head feels lovely and clear in the evening, which helps to counter the ever shortening days at this time of the year.

Adding a String to My Bow

I have been presented with a certificate! It’s been a long time since I received one of those. Ok, it was awarded to everyone who completed the beginner’s archery course course that I’ve been attending for the last month (see here) but, still, it was an achievement to go and try something completely new and out of my comfort zone. Since being gently coaxed to try out a tandem, there’s been no stopping me!IMG_0927 - Copy

It’s been fun, learning to shoot. It’s been important to be able to laugh – some of my arrows really went haywire! It really was like starting afresh in the second week. In the first week we shot “bare bow”, without any sights or finger guards. In the second, these were added. It felt like you were wearing thick gloves, and remembering to use the sight was strangely difficult! Watching one of my arrows hit the target belonging to the group next to us, and my next arrow sail over the target altogether, helped concentrate the mind! We agreed that it was like learning to drive – so many things to remember all at once, then they all click into place (I’m still working on the latter part!)

Unfortunately, I missed the third week (as I was on the Bakewell tart hunt), so for the final week, again, it felt like starting afresh. There was also an added, rather unwelcome (!), challenge, in that we were in competition with each other all morning. I think we’ll draw a veil over my score!

the longbow

the longbow

We were also treated to a demonstration of the long bow (thank you, Ian!) It was a deceptively simple bow, with none of the additions of the recurve bow that we were using. Nevertheless, it packed a punch as the arrow thunked into the target – a wooden arrow, with goose feather flethchings. The bow was light to hold, and the wood, which was a mix of hickory and yew, felt satisfyingly smooth. It was much closer to the image of Agincourt or Robin Hood than the modern bows, and a few of us were rather coveting it!

I have decided to become a member of the club so that I can try and improve. More importantly, though, it’s sociable and it also gives me something else to try when we can’t get out together on the tandem (I’m constantly nervous of a recurrence of Pete’s Knee!)

Target Practice

You may remember that I attended a Paralympic Sportsfest event a few months ago (Being Inspired) where I tried out lots of sports (with varying degrees of success but much fun – especially on the horse!) and particularly enjoyed the archery. Afterwards, I was put in touch with a local club (http://www.whiterosearchers.co.uk/) and signed up for a course near to where I live. It was due to begin, distantly, in the autumn. Well, it must be autumn (even though the leaves are very much still green and on the trees) as last weekend, the course began!IMG_0920

There were 20-odd of us, ranging from about aged eight to, hmmm, reasonably mature. We were placed into groups of four or five, and each group had its own instructor. We were shown how to string a bow (not sure I’ll remember for next week though!), did a few (very!) gentle arm-stretching exercises, received some safety advice and then we were away!

I was really chuffed with my first shots and, in fact, did pretty decently generally until I started to tire, when the arrows seemed suddenly to mysteriously ping away to the outer rings of the target! There was a general feeling amongst us beginners that we were getting worse rather than better as time went on – there were a few tired arms by the end.archery092013

I was able to shoot from a stool that was kindly provided, and I sat down safely out of range in between my goes. After a while though I could feel my brain starting to shut down, plus I didn’t really want to end ignominiously with no arrows in the target area at all(!), so I sat out the last few rounds and watched. It was great to have a much better excuse than everyone else for my deteriorating form!

However, I shall be back next week, fully rested and ready to start afresh … apparently it feels like that with what we’ll be learning. Bring it on! (I think!)

Being Inspired

Calamity struck a few days before I was due to attend the Sports Fest event in Sheffield: Pete woke to find that his knee was extremely painful and he could barely walk. Clearly, this was not great for him; it also had a knock-on effect for me. I couldn’t drive there myself and then take part in any activities – I’d only have the energy for one or the other.

We made a right pair, hobbling about the house. In fact, I was suddenly the more mobile parent!

There then followed many frantic phone calls to all my friends to sell the idea of an unusual day out at a couple of days’ notice. Most were happy to come in principle but unsurprisingly already had things arranged. Fortunately, just when I had all but given up hope, Steph picked up my text and came to the rescue!sp2

We had a great day out! Once there, I headed straight for the archery area. I’d always fancied having a go at archery and now I had the chance. My instructor was very helpful in showing me exactly how to hold the bow and adjust my aim. I initially used a very light child’s practice bow, then moved on to a heavier one whilst sitting down, which I actually found easier. I am pleased to report that most of the arrows found the target! Afterwards, another volunteer took my details and will be forwarding me information about archery clubs near me – so watch this space!

I also tried rifle shooting. I know that sounds like an ominous couple of activities but there is no hidden agenda! I just thought they would suit someone less mobile and with decent eyesight, honest! Anyway, I discovered that my arm was too short to hold the rifle appropriately and shoot. (Probably much to the relief of everyone who knows me!)

One thing I tried, having had absolutely no thought of doing so beforehand, was horse riding! There was a rather impressively real-looking mechanical horse to ride. There was no queue; I was feeling adventurous, or mad, so I jumped on. Well, more guided on by some very lovely and knowledegeable volunteers. Before I knew it I was cantering rather sp3too fast and gripping horse and reins tightly. Rather too tightly it turned out: it goes faster the tighter you grip. So, totally counter-intuitively, I had to relax my legs and arms, and sit back in the saddle. It worked … well, that and the fact that the lovely lady pressed some buttons so that she could control entirely what speed we went. It was really good fun and apparently they use such a device initially with novices, which seems like a great idea. They reassured me that they always use very placid horses with beginners … I’ve got leaflets for that too!

We did a spot of chatting with a celebrity as well. Hannah Cockroft, double Paralympic gold medal-winning sprint wheelchair racer (and local Halifax hero!), was at the athletics stand, happily handing out her medals to everyone to hold and having her photo taken. (Yes, obviously, we got photos too!) There were lots of youngsters around her and she was cheery and encouraging to them all as they tried out the racing chairs or simply wanted to be photographed with her.sp5

There were several Paralympic athletes helping out at the different sports stands, easily distinguished by their Team GB tracksuits and distinctive red trainers. Three of them also gave a short talk about their experience at the Paralympics, how they had got into sports initially and what sport meant to them. That was when I discovered that one of the women who had been talking to me at the horseriding stand was actually Sophie Wells who had won team gold in dressage as well as two silver medals! Also speaking were Will Bayley, the very enthusiastic table tennis player who won a silver and bronze, and powerlifter, Ali Jawed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also had the chance to try rowing, using a machine that kept my legs in place so all the effort was in my arms. I noticed that someone was punching my details into a laptop and before I knew it I was in a race with the two chaps either side of me! My personal coach encouraged me to speeds I didn’t know I could achieve … but I still lost! I think I’ll stick to two-man canoes, where my input isn’t essential!

Finally, I tried hand cycling. It’s deceptive: you think it looks very gentle as you’re practically lying down but then you have to put all your effort into your arms to move. Apparently they are very aerodynamic and you can go pretty fast for the effort put in. (Though cheating on the back of a tandem still wins for me!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was lovely to see so many people there, particularly youngsters whom, you never know, we might see in Rio in 2016! But it also gave you a chance to try something new. It’s funny, I’ve never been what you’d call sporty and before having MS I would never have gone to a day dedicated to trying out different sports but now, with MS, here I was! See where getting on a tandem has taken me!

Also, Steph was mulling something over all the way back and when I got home I received an email from her: she’d just bought a bike! The spirit of Being Inspired continues to spread!

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