Archery for wheelers

I had not shot an arrow or held a bow since I was a camper at Robin Hood Country Day Camp. That was when I was still on my feet. In 1988 I lost the use of them thanks to a car accident. Since then I tried several things in an attempt to keep in shape: skiing, tennis, martial arts. Each had limited success. For the past few months I had been contemplating archery. My interest was sparked every time I drove to the local shopping mall. There, by the side of the road, was a yellow billboard advertising archery supplies. Each time I past it I felt beckoned, but I never pulled over to investigate further.

A week or so ago I decided to take my interest a step further. Sitting in front of my computer, I googled ‘archery on long island.’ In a few seconds the search engine responded with a list of possibilities. I clicked the one geographically closest to my home. The website looked promising: instruction, supplies, and a shooting range. There was nothing, though, to indicate whether the place catered to wheelchair users. I clicked on the phone link and waited for the Skype connection. During the call I learned that the place was chair friendly. In fact I was told they had a few wheelchair-using clients. So, I made an appointment.

As I said, I’d studied martial arts, but not in recent years. My former sensei was still a good friend though. He was constantly encouraging me to get more exercise. So, when I told him my plan, he was all for it. In fact, he said he’d go with me sometime. He warned me, though, that I was in for more of a workout that I’d expected. I laughed off the comment, not remembering a tough time of it when I was that kid in camp.

Jump ahead two days. When I arrived at the archery place for my one o’clock appointment I was greeted enthusiastically by the man I’d spoken to on the phone. After paying the fee, and filling out some paperwork, he introduced me to my instructor.  The other students were much younger than me, reminding me once again of that camp experience.

The lesson consisted of the rules of the range, and a brief introduction to two types of bows available. I chose a compound bow, the kind with a pulley system that both made pulling the string easier and gave the shot more power. I had never used one and I was intrigued.

Over the next two hours I shot arrow after arrow at the target some 5 yards before me. I learned many lessons. The parent of one of the other students suggested that I lock the wheels of my chair. He said every time I pulled the bow back my chair shifted which, he surmised, made my arrows fly awkwardly. I hadn’t noticed but followed his suggestion, and he was right of course. My aim improved, though I still hardly ever hit the precise place on the target I was aiming for. I learned other lessons too, including the best position to lock my chair relative to the target.

There are many sports that have been adapted for people in wheelchairs. Archery seems to be one that does not need much adaptation. It does require a sense of balance though, and the use of muscles one might not normally use; muscles that might have become weakened by years of sitting in a wheelchair. I intend to continue with my lessons and my shooting. My sensei was correct when he warned me I might be sore after my workout, but I assume that feeling will diminish over time. Now I have to wonder if a blind man can participate in this sport. How would my character, Douglas Abledan fare with a bow in his hands? Comments welcome!

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