Karen Bryan spoke with us about her experiences of archery throughout her life...
I first took up archery in the mid-1980s after being inspired while watching Robin of Sherwood. I was in my mid-teens and my Dad and brother were also keen to try the sport. I loved it, but after a couple of years I started to struggle because, unknown to us at the time, my eyesight was deteriorating and I was struggling with my sightmarks.
By the time I had given up in 1986, aged 14, I had achieved my 2nd Class, had 2 Archery Achievement Scheme badges from The Association for Archery in Schools (my Blue Badge for Under 15s level shooting and my Red Badge for Under 18s level shooting in May and June 1986 respectively) and had been invited to shoot at the Kent County Archery Association County Championships. That was my last competition, the last time I shot as a Junior.
I hadn't really thought much about archery after that, doing my exams, going to Uni, moving away from home and starting work I was too busy to think about hobbies. But after the 2012 Olympics I was starting to think about having a go at archery again, to see if I still enjoyed it. I was busy with work and life, so kept putting it off, until 4 years later. Having had a nervous breakdown in 2014, and as part of my recovery, I began looking at hobbies from my past and decided to take the plunge and contact my local club, Grimsby Archers.
In June 2016 I went for an assessment, and all the love of the sport that I'd had as a 12-14 year old came flooding back - as did a lot of my knowledge of how to shoot. I joined the club, and by the end of the outdoor season I had earned my 2nd class badge once again (although this time as a senior), shooting my old Border Comet.
During that season, and through my first indoor season I started to learn more about modern shooting techniques and our Club Secretary, Chris Petchey, told me that I was ready to enter some competitions. I hadn't really thought about it, and was quite nervous about doing so and to be honest, I put it off for a while.
I started to visit a local commercial range for a bit of extra shooting, which also has a club and runs a series of winter competitions and eventually I decided to enter the last competition of the series, a Portsmouth. I absolutely loved it!
I met lots of like-minded people, and quickly made friends. I have some really good friendships that were forged on that day as well as through my own club, not least with our county's top lady recurve archer, Helen Faulkner, who was so very generous with her time and encouragement. She was complimentary about my shooting, and encouraged me to start shooting in more competitions.
By Easter 2017 I had earned my 1st Class and was entering competitions across the county. Although I wasn't yet ready to shoot 80yds, and my equipment just wouldn't get me any further than 60yds, I was regularly competing in Bristol II competitions and I came 2nd in the Lincolnshire County Windsor.
Moving through the winter season I upgraded my limbs and sight, and started to get more serious about my competitions. I won my first winter series, and that encouraged me to start thinking about taking on a coach. We are lucky at Grimsby that we have a County level coach in the club, Andrew Harrison, and we started to work together on identifying what elements of my shooting I needed to work on and I started to change my approach to club days, using them as training and practice days rather than just flinging a few arrows at a random distance or simply shooting rounds to try and get classifications.
The 2018 outdoor season came and I was shooting at a wider variety of competitions, starting to shoot 70m rounds, and to my surprise I found myself in the National Rankings, I shot twice for the Lincolnshire County Senior Team, and came 3rd in the Regional Championships.
I continued to shoot well across the season, almost earning my Bowman Classification, and started to learn a lot more about shooting, equipment, and the mental side of the sport. Everything spurred me on to develop further and I signed up to the Winter Development Course that Lincolnshire County Archery Society put on and worked with another of our County coaches, John Fisher, who really complemented the work that Andrew and I were already doing on my technique. I also attended a course run by Erin Prior and organised by Arrowhawks Archery in Yorkshire on the mental side of archery.
Combined with another equipment upgrade, this time updating my riser and stabilisers, I found myself making huge improvements in both my shooting and my mental approach to the sport. I retained my winter series cup, and shot in both the county and regional indoor championships. By now I had made a lot of friends across the region as well as the county, and I had become a part of the X Sight Archery Pro Staff, as well as a recurring member of the county team.
During the early part of the 2019 outdoor season Helen and I were chatting about the National Rankings and the National Tour events. She had thoroughly enjoyed her experiences on the National Tour in 2018, and she said that she felt I would also enjoy it - and that, despite my reservations, I was ready for the challenge.
With Bowmen of Glen hosting one round I decided that I would take a chance and dip a toe into the big pond. I had a chat with my club coach, Andrew, about it and he was pleased that I was taking the plunge and also felt that I would not only enjoy the day, but also benefit immensely from the experience. Through the competitions leading up to Stage 4, I found myself steadily climbing up the National Rankings, peaking at 116, and despite my scores dropping because I am once again on the county's Development Course, I felt excited at the prospect of shooting on the big stage.
On the day I found that everyone there, both those I knew and total strangers, were incredibly welcoming. People greeted me cheerfully, and I actually felt really relaxed. As we were setting up I noticed that Patrick Huston was a short distance off to my right, and that Naomi Folkard was off to my left.
It turned out that I was on the opposite detail to them, so for the first few ends I found myself watching them shooting - taking in what I was seeing and mentally learning from them. For an archer like me it's such a rarity to have the opportunity to see these archers shooting other than on TV or videos, so it was a real treat to be able to see them in person. I had approached the day knowing I had nothing to lose, and with absolutely no expectations, so I simply relaxed, had fun, and shot arrows. It was fantastic. One of the best competition experiences I have ever had, and I am so glad that I went.
I have some wonderful photos and memories from the day, and I have a beautiful official photo that shows how much I have progressed as an archer. Despite there being so many Team GB Senior and Junior archers there I didn't once feel out of place - and at the halfway stage of the morning session I was in 25th place! It was such a great day that I will definitely do the National Tour again, maybe not this year, but certainly next year.
To anyone who's thought about it but is worried they're not good enough or ready, you are good enough - you are ready! The National Tour is for everyone, and archers there are just as generous with their time and advice as at any club shoot. It's an incredible experience, and the best time to start is when you have no expectations.