Monday, 23 June 2014

Who'd have thought it?

As those of you who read my blog regularly or follow me on Facebook or twitter will know, I started doing archery after I got CRPS in my legs eight and a half years ago. I shot for about a year then didn't shoot again until we watched the London 2012 Olympics. Seeing the shooting on there gave me the 'itch' that inevitably meant I started shooting again in August 2012.
Yes,  I really do shoot like this!

It's been a roller-coaster ride, as once again CRPS tried to stick it's great big spanner in the works in March 2013 by moving to both upper arms. So not only do I shoot effectively sitting down with my legs out in front of me, I also do battle with arms that do their best to make life difficult. 

You know how hard it is to push a duvet into a bin bag? The more you push, the harder it seems to get? Well, that's a pretty good analogy for what it's like for me drawing my bow. At worst, I can barely pull to full draw, certainly can't get 'onto my back' and struggle to keep my fingers from slipping off the string. Oh, and my arms are so locked up that any hope of relaxation when I release the shot is purely wishful thinking. The result? Lousy arrows that are poorly grouped, nowhere near what I expect from myself. The only good thing is that regardless of how I shoot, my arms are still getting some physio.

I didn't manage to shoot outdoors more than once or twice last year I think. Initially because the weather was so awful that I couldn't get on the field in my wheelchair. Well I might have got onto the field but you'd have needed to tow me off afterwards! Then CRPS meant that my arms were just too bad so all I could do was shoot at home in short stints of a couple of dozen arrows. The final nail in the coffin for outdoor shooting came in July when we went to the Royal National Orthopaedic at Stanmore the first time. Eric wasn't allowed to use his arm at all until the operation which he subsequently had in September. Some 6-7 months later when his arm had healed (huzzah!) I could finally get to shoot outdoors. Proper distances at last!

I hadn't been twiddling my thumbs in the interim. I'd been working really hard, literally pushing through the pain, stubbornly using my arms regardless of how painful a movement might be or how hard it was lifting things. The limb poundage (of my bow) dropped by 6lbs to 22lbs as that was all I could cope with. Even then I couldn't shoot for long. As I write this I still have three sets of identical limbs, ranging from 24lb to 28lb in my archery bag in case I need to drop down again. 
A simple setup..

As I said before archery is perfect Physio, and together with lots of stretching whilst sitting in my chair I slowly but surely regained most of the range of movement I'd lost and was more able to use my upper body strength again. When my arms were at their worst I feared that this wonderful sport I'd taken up, and and got such pleasure from, was going to be taken from me. Like golf and the other sports I did before getting CRPS. Not without a fight that was for sure! It never ends, because my arms start to deteriorate almost immediately after I've finished shooting. A few hours later I can barely clench my fist and my arms become harder and harder to move as I have to push through the pain more and more. That's the wonderful thing with archery, it never makes my arms worse, only better although of course I suffer the usual payback that comes with doing anything.

The way I drew the bow had to change and still does depending on how much control I have of my arms and fingers. I was forced to tweak, and adapt my draw to try and get back to shooting like I was before. I've forgotten the number of changes I've tried in the quest for my draw and body position to 'feel right'. I'd been in regular email contact with my coaches (Iris and Tom) throughout the time I was only shooting at home. They were wonderful, answering my queries or suggesting things I could try depending on what was going wrong or if it was something I simply couldn't do. Forever striving to use my back, have a strong power line and above all consistency. 

All 6 arrows in the yellow...Yes!!
Luckily, as was the case with golf all those years ago I seem to have good 'muscle memory' so can 'feel' when I've made a good shot and got everything right. I try and shoot each arrow like this, the same as I did the last and will do the next. If I'm lucky I'll manage this most of the time during the session. At worst I simply can't get comfortable at all. I can't do anything with my arms at all and any hope of consistency goes out the window. Usually it's a mixture of both, which can be incredibly frustrating when you fall a couple of points short of a new PB having shot some absolute shockers along the way.
But when it's going well (see photo) .... the feeling is awesome!! 

If my draw goes awry I can normally self diagnose so I know what to focus on when my arms go whoosh. Just as well really!

I'm chuffed to be back up to the 28lb limbs I was using before CRPS struck in my arms. Albeit with the lightest recurve bow setup we could put together. My Fiberbow riser weighs in at just 530g. I don't use a clicker, have a bog standard arrow rest and a short (19") long rod. That's it. Very much the minimalist approach compared to all the gadgets and gizmos I see on most of the bows around me.

Which brings us to the very heart of this blog post. When CRPS struck in my arms I could easily have given up as my form vanished. Frustrating wasn't the word when you know you can do something but can't get anywhere near it. No matter how hard you try. 
Not only did I get myself back to where I was, I've achieved so much more than that. More than I could ever have imagined. Between March 2013 and November 2013 my handicap tumbled from an initial 56 (100 is the lowest) to 40. I won an award at the club's AGM in recognition.  Wow...

Finally I got to shoot outdoors. To say it's amazing is an understatement. I am well and truly hooked. I had no idea how far I'd be able to shoot but really wanted to get to 80yds if possible. Following a change to faster arrows and turning the sight round to the belly of the bow, we (Tom helped me adjust the sight) gradually worked our way back and I was amazed to find that I can reach 80yds! Which means I can shoot any round and take part in any competition. Wow again...

Last week I shot my first outdoor round, a Short National, scoring 508, which is a 49 handicap. Apparently that's actually one place better than what you need to achieve a First Class classification but to do that you have to shoot 60yds and 50yds rather than the 50yds and 40yds that I did. Take that CRPS!!

My first archery trophy!
It remains an ongoing battle of course, as is the nature of CRPS. It you give it an inch it'll definitely take a mile. I never know which arms are going to turn up each time I shoot, the good, the bad, or the plain awful. So I keep up the regime needed to keep pushing CRPS back. I keep my arms covered all the time, stretch them numerous times a day and use them to support myself regardless of how they feel. I also shoot twice a week, every week. Either both sessions at home or once at home and once over at the field. I can't manage any more than that, more's the pity. I go through bad patches where I can't get anywhere near the gold but work through it as I have every other time. It may take two or three sessions but I've regained my form time and time again , I just have to hang in there, and bludgeon my arms into submission. 

I've managed to keep improving, bettering my groupings and with it my scores. I have a Summer of shooting to look forward to, with the new challenges that brings. I'll be trying to shoot lots of rounds outdoors and see what outdoor handicap I can achieve by the end of the season. 

I admit to feeling really emotional having written, and then read through this. I can't put into words the buzz, the joy archery gives me. Yes, even when my arms are doing their best to stop me. CRPS stripped me of everything I was good at eight and a half years ago. I never thought in a million years I'd ever be good at anything ever again. But I am. I'm good at archery. Despite having CRPS in all four limbs and everything that goes with it.  Who'd have thought it?