Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The conundrum that is archery!

A bit of background for some of this post to make sense. Here goes...

Prior to getting CRPS in 2005, throughout my 34 years I'd played competitive sport. To County Level in Badminton, Tennis and Golf and club level in those plus hockey. Even at the tender age of 7 or so I was playing cricket with boys much older than myself. My grandad was the scorer for a team in the Birmingham league so many a Summer holiday was spent bowling, batting and fielding. There was talk of me being signed up for a Ladies' squad but I was getting into other sports and left cricket behind. Wonder where I'd have been had I not done that? Irrelevant now...

I'd been given my grandfather's old golf clubs and spent many an hour belting golf balls backwards and forwards across the student cricket pitch that was across the road from my house (we lived on an Agricultural college). The same cricket field I did endless circuits around to get match fit for badminton and tennis.

The sport I was actively doing in the years before CRPS put it's size 10 boot in, was golf. I'd always been a natural ball sports player so it stood to reason that golf came naturally to me. So it proved. I only ever had county organised group sessions which were useless but apart from that was self-taught. l came in on a handicap of 26 (max was 36, now 40) and within a couple of years it was down to 5.6 and still falling. Mentally really tough I was rarely beatable at match play at any level. I was totally focused, very serious and determined. Off the course or when it was just a practice round I was a bit of a joker but when I had my game face on. Well... beware LOL.

You get the idea of the sort of approach I took to sport. I detested losing with a passion. I had incredibly high expectations of myself, then beat myself up when I didn't match up. CRPS took that all away. It wasn't even a gradual loss. Bang, it was gone. The competitiveness got absorbed? hidden? locked away in my brain somewhere because that wasn't going to happen again? I wouldn't get that buzz that comes with a cracking good score or beating someone.

I grieved for the loss of doing sport and all that came with it. My sporting days were over. All the various clubs, racquets and sticks were sold or given away. It all went as I'd never use them again, so why keep them?

l first dabbled with archery about 7 years ago at a disabled social and sports club. At that point Eric could shoot as well so it was great. The distance was tiny, just across the length of a small hall but I was hooked. Sadly numbers dwindled until is was just me and Eric. We tried to join a 'proper' archery club but to say they weren't setup for the disabled archer is an understatement. Epic Fail! Instead we bought a cheap target and shot at home. The frequency became less and less then Eric broke his arm and that was that....

Until I watched archery at the 2012 Olympics and decided I had to try again. It's documented elsewhere that I found a brilliant club who are so friendly and accommodating. I started to get some coaching from the incredibly experienced Tom & Iris who are two of the loveliest people you could hope to meet. They taught me how to shoot properly, a revelation to me having only been taught the basics all those years ago. I threw myself into it, relishing the challenge of mastering what they taught me. A year later, through a combination of their excellent tutelage and a lot of b****y hard work on my part, I have developed a solid, consistent technique, which may not be entirely textbook, but is customised for me and my situation. Namely shooting in my wheelchair with my legs at 90° to my body. Much of the work has been done at home, shooting down the garden as we couldn't go out because of Eric's surgery. I've emailed Iris and Tom for advice as necessary. As I said far from textbook but it works.

The competitiveness that had lain dormant all those years raised it's head and decided to make a reappearance. As I improved and my scores got better the 'competitive me' came back. I wasn't happy shooting 5s, 6s and 7s, I wanted more. I'd only be happy when I was regularly getting 8s, 9s and 10s. Anything less was rubbish. Yes, it was definitely back! It felt good to have that challenge, that buzz again. The excitement of beating my PB. Shooting more than 50 for 6 arrows. I absolutely love archery and no sooner have I finished, I'd be looking forward to the next time.

Unfortunately CRPS has stuck that size 10 boot in again. An injury to my right shoulder was too big an invitation and CRPS moved into my right arm and fingers of my right hand. The hand I use to draw with. Well it wouldn't go to the left fingers would it? Not debilitating enough. It then dd to jump to the left arm. This has happened since March 2013 and has impacted more and more on my shooting. Further changes in equipment and technique have been needed. I have the lightest possible setup now.

As I've already said my expectations of myself have increased the more I've shot, because of my natural competitiveness. And my improvement of some 15 places in my handicap from 56 in March to 41 at the end of the season. Despite CRPS. I'd be lying if I said the ever more intrusive impact of CRPS wasn't having an impact on my shooting but more so on my mental state. I suffer bouts of intense frustration, feeling really down, despair as well as excitement and joy when I manage to shoot really well. Let me try and explain why....

How I shoot from one session to the other isn't something I can control any longer. I am literally at the mercy of my arms, riddled as they now are with CRPS. If my arms are playing up it is completely impossible for me to get into a decent position to draw. Drawing the string for those first few arrows is so excrutiatingly painful for my fingers. But it eases and I do my best. Sometimes I struggle to hang onto the string long enough to aim and shoot in a controlled way. Inevitably the arrows are all over the place, my scores are way below what I'm capable of. It's really hard work with me struggling to pull the string to full draw. You would think I was trying to use someone else's bow with a much higher poundage. lt's uncomfortable, INCREDIBLY frustrating and demoralising. My competitiveness whispers to me, telling me how useless I am. No allowances for how I have to shoot or the problems with my arms.

Of course shooting is the only thing I can do that not only is pain free and has a hugely beneficial effect on the pain, stiffness and swelling of CRPS. I have to shoot every few days, a regime which is brutal, takes so much out of me, makes my legs considerably worse but I have to do it to fight the CRPS, keep a good range of movement and lower pain levels.  So how do I reconcile the competitiveness and the need to shoot (however badly) to stave off CRPS? I have been improving continually, despite everything CRPS has thrown at me so far. It's not all good though. There have been batches of sessions that were an unmitigated disaster. Combination of arms misbehaving, shooting when I really wasn't feeling up to it and the extra demands on life as Eric continued his convalescence. 

I was hoping that now Eric's arm is healed (hooray!!!), my arms might settle down and my shooting would become more consistent and a little easier again. Instead it typically now takes half a 60 arrow round before my arms have 'loosened up' enough to shoot like I KNOW I can. Sometimes they don't loosen up at all and my left arm is as rock hard and stubbornly refuses to relax whilst my right arm simply refuses to go back for enough to use my back muscles. No two sessions are the same, I never feel 'right' at full draw somehow.

So I did an experiment earlier this week. Having shot on Monday, with a score some 50 away from my PB, I decided to shoot the following day. lt was a revelation! From the first arrow to the last I was able to shoot like I could months and months ago. I realised that I haven't been shooting properly for quite some time. I was able to draw the string across my body, maintain a good power line, use my back etc. It felt amazing and of course I scored so much better. Only 9 points shy of my PB. I was elated but then of course the reality sunk in. I can't shoot two days in a row, the payback is way too severe. So what I've proved means nothing really. It's not as if I can do anything about it is there?

I suspect that If the situation was different I could be really good at archery. Instead I'm stuck in a useless body that won't work properly. I do my best to not let the frustration get to me. The need to accept that the bad sessions aren't down to me, aren't my fault. It's my body letting me down (again) because of b****y CRPS, not letting me to shoot to my potential. 

I'm really struggling with it all. The CRPS isn't going anywhere and although archery does it good and shooting doesn't hurt, am I just putting off the inevitable? Will the sessions where I'm utter rubbish gradually become the norm? How will the newly re-surfaced competitive me cope with that? Will there come a point when I have to give up archery completely? That would be almost too much to bear. I can't go through that again, archery is so very important to me, my quality of life, my sanity. I can't see a future that doesn't feature archery so somehow I have to find a way through this. Answers on a postcard please....