A Shot In The Dark
Visually impaired Archery at the Wisconsin games!
At the 2018 Wisconsin Highland Games forty-six people competed in archery; six of them stood out. It wasn’t their lack of Kilt that made their presence unique. It was the fact that they are all blind. Not only did they compete, but the number one archer in the blind division would have place third in the sighted competition.
This all started in 2016 when I went to get my USA Archery Level 2 certification as a coach. It is a three-day intensive program; part study, part practical. That means it is held at an archery range, Barefoot Archery of Charlotte NC to be precise. While we were being certified we were introduced to the mechanism used to align blind archers. It is a stand that holds your body in place aligned with the target. Your feet are placed in marks, and there is a probe that touches the back of your hand to sight into the target. The rest is on you.
We were asked if we would like to shoot blindfolded. I did. It was an other-worldly experience for me. I have had a bow in my hands since 18 months of age (My parents owned an archery shop.) Something that had been second nature to me, for as long as I can remember was now foreign. I was able to hit the target and in subsequent rounds tighten the pattern of my arrows on the target. That was an awesome feeling!
The next chapter occurred at the 2017 Wisconsin Highland Games. A friend, a musician in a Scottish band came up to the archery area and asked if he could learn to shoot a bow. That is why we have archery at the games – to give people a chance to shoot a bow – yet this was different. You see, his nickname is “Blind Dan.” Because of my prior experience I was able to respond with a “Hell Yea!” Within minutes a few of us had rigged a temporary stand and he was placing arrows into the target. Again, an other-worldly experience – doing something almost inconceivable.
After that, I looked on the internet for a portable stand. I found one designed by a couple who are both tournament archers. She is blind, and he is an engineer. They were both very gracious and sent me plans along with some tips on teaching. So, I got to work and built the prototype stand. Now I had some knowledge, a stand, but nobody to teach. I reached out to Vision Forward and explained my plan. I was invited in to do a presentation and within weeks I had three students. We began shooting at West Town Archery and did three sessions. All of the participants were encouraging to me. They wanted me to expand the program.
In 2018 we were able to set up a target in the basement of the Vision Forward building and engage five archers. This was the team (along with Blind Dan) that was able to compete at the Highland Games.
The next chapter is going to require more volunteer instructors. There is another group who would like to learn and compete, and I know there are more potential archer. I now know how to start a program and get it competitive. I can even certify coaches. I’m just looking for people who are interested in sharing their sport. Helping another person achieve the inconceivable is an experience we should all have.