March 05, 2021

Celebrating female role models in archery

In the run up to International Women's Day on 8 March 2021, Archery GB is sharing the stories of women in archery. Here, Lydia O'Donoghue, coach and founder of Flamestrike Archery, tells us about her archery journey.

In 2018, I walked into the indoor range at Redhill Archers. I was signed on for the Level 1 coaching course and was second guessing my decision to try for my coaching licence. Sitting down, I looked around the room - there were only two other females on the course out of 12 candidates; when you're a female and a visible minority you tend to notice these kinds of things. I introduced myself to the people sitting around me and then we got right into the course content. It overwhelmed me! I had only picked up a bow for the first time in 2016 and here I was learning how to teach others to shoot. Was I even good enough to do this? Everyone else seemed to be able to recite the Rules of Shooting by heart. Compared with them, I felt like I had only learned how to string my bow.

Benefits of mentoring

My mentor, club members and coaches were rooting for me though. They willingly shared their knowledge and years of experience with me. I wanted to help the club grow its junior section, and in order to do that, I needed the knowledge to transfer to them. So I threw myself into the deep end. I qualified with my Level 1 course and was soon helping to running corporate events and beginners' courses.

Archery for all

By the time I was doing my Level 2 coaching course, I saw once again the same male to female ratios; only a third of the cohort. There were so many amazing coaches around me, but none who looked like me. So not only were females underrepresented, but visible minorities weren't in the picture. So I took to the internet and found the story of World Archery Coach Park Young Sook (Coach Sally). Here was a Korean female archery coach who went to Malawi to train archers for the Rio Olympics. Suddenly there was someone I could relate to doing something I aspired to become.

A seed of an idea began to grow. I had taken up archery because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to. I had then taken on coaching because I wanted to help others. But I knew I wanted to help a specific group.

I am woman...

Growing up as a female, there are so many preconceptions about what a woman does or how she should act or look or dress, that by the time you navigate the murky waters of adolescence and early adulthood, you come out wondering what or who you're even supposed to be.

[caption id="attachment_25784" align="alignnone" width="225"] Lydia O'Donoghue set up Flamestrike Archery in 2020 to help support girls in the sport[/caption]

I was around nine years old when I was first told I was fat. By the time adolescence hit, I was convinced I was hideous and obese. I spiralled into depression and by the time I got to my 20s I was battling an eating disorder. It took many years of work to pull myself out. By the time I got to my mid 30s, I was living abroad with a young family and had lost confidence in myself again because of society's expectations of what motherhood was supposed to look like. Archery and the community around it (I'm affiliated to Stratford Archers) helped me find myself at a time when I had forgotten that I had a life and an identity outside of preconceived notions.

Archery coaching: teaching the next generation

Fast forward to my own daughter at eight years old struggling with social exclusion. I didn't want her walking down the same path I had gone down at her age. So I got her on the line. She would come down to see what I do at club events, and then we worked together in the back garden using a soft archery set. We spent time talking, working on technique, improving her ability, helping her feel confident through her progress. I knew this couldn't be a coincidence. Archery was helping her like it had helped me.

The seed was taking root. I knew I wanted to be able to help others like my 12-year-old self who was so lonely after moving to a new school in my last year of elementary school. I wanted to help others who are like my young daughter, socially excluded because they don't quite fit in the way others want them to. My aim was to help anyone who has ever felt less than.

Flamestrike Archery is dedicated to boosting girls' confidence in the sport

So I created Flamestrike Archery in 2020, where my focus is on helping girls feel confident about themselves. Archery is a sport where you don't need to be the most sporty or athletic. You can enjoy the sport no matter your ability. But more importantly, archery is a community where you'll find others willing to help you on your journey. Everyone is welcome to a place on the line.

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