Are you kidding me? You wanna do ARCHERY!!??

It made absolutely no sense. Here Sue was just a month after her stroke and she had a lot of weakness in her left arm and leg. She needed a rollator to aid her to walk and the top of her left shoe was wearing out from her dragging that foot when she got tired.

Shooting Arrows-1241
Sue practicing balancing on the pads while trying for a bullseye in archery.

I had wanted to get her involved in something recreationally, to get her motivated and out of the house. So she wouldn’t be only doing rehab for stroke, but some other things for fun. When I asked her what she would like to do, not in a million years would I think she’d have said archery. Without hesitation, she had come up with this when I asked. “I did it as a child and enjoyed it. I’d like to try it again.”

I don’t know about you, but when was the last time you saw an archery class? I started to investigate and found out that there are very few classes. And even less adult classes. Lets see how much she wants to do this.”Are you willing to take a class with kids?” Yes she says. So I found a class, Tuesdays, right in our area. She did the work, made the contact and off we went to check it out and speak to the owner of the club. Sue was not deterred by the fact that she was a good foot taller than all the other students. And so, she started to learn the techniques of archery. She was matched with 12 year old Joseph. There they would stand, one shooting right handed and the other left handed, almost touching, as they shot arrows down the range. And sometimes you’d see Joseph encroach too far on Sue’s side and she’d hip check him back to his side. Well, to all accounts, she really was just a kid at that time in her recovery. Other than size, she really was still very child-like in her development.

The summer came and ‘Coach’ as she was told to call him, a man of Eastern European decent with an accent to match, told her he had a summer camp up north. Sue became excited for only a minute until he finished with “But not for you.” in his strong accent. She had only just began the archery when it was finished for the season. We looked elsewhere.

We found Schneller Archery who catered to all ages. They had some very young competitors and some adults whom they were training for US and Canadian competitions. Perfect for Sue. It was a family business, run by Bruce and his wife Rita with their daughter, nineteen year old Rachel. Little did we know it at the time, but this family would become so much more than just teachers of archery to Sue. Their gifts lay not only in teaching but in the love they express to each and every one of their clients as they work with them to achieve the clients’ goals. Sue would spend the summer with one-on-one tutorials on Saturdays in their backyard, learning the fundamentals. She still had weakness in her left arm and leg, but she was learning how to control her limbs better. She had started using a cane more often for walking than the rollator. She started off with a light and easy draw pull on the bow to compensate for the weakness in her left arm.

Sue came home with  two balance pillows. These are big blue air filled cushions that squish around under you. She was supposed to stand on them, one under each foot, as she washed dishes. You have no idea how absurd an idea this was because Sue had no balance at that point and fell many times weekly, sometimes daily. But she practiced. Falling off them again and again and again.  When watching tv she would jump on them and try practicing during commercials, trying for longer and longer periods. You can image my surprise when she came home and told me she was shooting in archery while standing on the pillows. And she got a bullseye! Wow. And through this practice, she continued to build strength and endurance in her left leg and to gain more balance when she walked. Before the end of the summer, she was able to put the cane down and walk on her own.

Perseveration. A new term I learned in relation to Sue’s stroke. It is the ability to focus unreservedly on something because of a brain injury. If you have a mental illness, it might be called obsessive compulsive disorder. But when it is due to a brain injury, it’s called perseveration and it is present for the duration of the injury. I found out that for archery, this was a very good trait to have. You see, when you shoot, there are all sorts of distractions. Your thoughts telling you your going to miss, someone whistles behind you, there’s the bang of a door. All these things can contribute to a missed shot. But Sue, who is able to perseverate and focus entirely on the bullseye at the exclusion of everything else, has a concentration like the Schnellers had never seen before.  The next step, was to learn to hone that skill. So, we bought NeuroSky, a program in which the ‘game’ responds to your brainwaves. For example, it has a ball and as you relax, the ball just floats easily. But as soon as you start thinking, or getting excited, the ball starts to bounce around. The idea is to calm your mind again to have it float and not bounce. It’s kind of like biofeedback, but the Schneller Tribe, as we called them, used it for feedback to students while they were shooting in archery. Bruce only needed to look at the game screen to know if someone shot a bullseye or missed. Sue practiced and practiced and practiced, and she learned to calm her brain. She was healing now, both in body and mind. The results were astonishing.

So, down we went to Michigan, for Sue to compete for the first time. We were told it wouldn’t count because she is Canadian and it’s really only for American competitors. However, there was a mistake made, because the Schneller Tribe are signed up as American Coaches. So Sue actually placed in the top three in her age category for the Eastern Region of the USA. Yeah Sue! But more importantly, Sue got to set a goal and to see it through to completion. She took a seemingly impossible task given her state because of the stroke and found out she can do anything when she works hard and wants it bad enough. She proved it could be done in spite of her limitations. She learned and taught a few of us, the only limitations are the ones you believe. And so she set her sights on the Paralympic games, coming next year to Toronto. She asked her coach Bruce what her chances were. He is not one to limit anyone, so he looked at the number of points she would need and set a schedule of competition in order for her to get those points. And then it happened. Sue lost her balance and fell down, breaking her right arm in five places. It would seem her archery endeavours would be halted, just like that.

Sue was very upset and disappointed. She not only lost the abilty to compete, but I know she missed the warm enbrace she felt through the coaching family. She received so much more then instruction from them. And as circumstances would have it, over the coarse of the next year, they also had to withdraw from the world of archery and teaching. I am eternally grateful for the kindness and caring they gave to Sue and for their part in helping her healing, whether it was their intention or a by-product. But I know Sue recently contacted them, two years later, and is hopeful they may take a couple of students on this summer. She’s asked if she can do it if they offered it. Without hesitation, I said yes and pulled out the balance cushions. “Better start practicing,” I said. “There’s dishes to be done,”  and I smiled as I walked away.

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