Archery gave Paralympians hope during the darkest times 


For years, John Stubbs saw no escape from the darkness that had come to envelop his life. Aged 24, while riding his motorbike home from work, he was hit by a car.

As he lay wounded in the gloom, a second vehicle ran over him. His femoral artery was severed and it took a 68-pint blood transfusion to save his life. Stubbs’ right leg was later amputated.

He had been a happy man, travelling that night from a job he loved to his wife and newborn baby. But suddenly he was plunged into an all-consuming cocktail of depression and addiction. ‘I saw no way out for me or my family,’ he admits. ‘There was no light and I tried to end my life.’

Stubbs is now 56 and along with Ellie Simmonds, was the British flag bearer at the Tokyo Paralympics. The moment he describes as his ‘absolute salvation’ came 28 years ago, when he first tried archery at a rehab centre.

Archer John Stubbs, 56, was one of the British flag-bearers at the recent Paralympic Games

‘It gave me a reason to live,’ Stubbs recalls. ‘I took up a sport where I could compete with able-bodied people on a level playing field. That’s all I’m after, that parity. Without that, if I hadn’t gone back to that rehabilitation unit… I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t be here now.’

Tokyo was Stubbs’ fourth Games and although he is the self-confessed ‘rebel’ of the GB squad, he is also its elder statesman. His story is perhaps extreme but the transformative effect of picking up a bow and arrow is one his team-mates, of all ages, attest to.

Phoebe Paterson Pine shocked the field to claim gold in her first Paralympics in August, in a tournament she would not even have been competing in if it was not for the year’s delay caused by the pandemic.

The 23-year-old, who has spina bifida, thrillingly edged out Chile’s Mariana Zuniga in the women’s individual compound open final. Archery has taken her from the girl who was always picked last in PE to the champion of the world.

‘The sport really has helped me out of some very dark spots in life,’ Paterson Pine says. ‘School was particularly tough for me. I was one of only two disabled people there. And kids are rude, kids will just say what’s going on in their minds. I don’t think there is a name under the sun that I haven’t been called before.

‘If I was having a bad day because somebody had said something, archery would save me. If I felt sad, I’d go and shoot.

‘It just picks me up and I found archery at the right point in my life. It got me out of some thick situations and I couldn’t suggest more to people that if they feel down, try it.’

Victoria Rumary shoots an arrow during the bronze medal match against USA in Tokyo

Victoria Rumary shoots an arrow during the bronze medal match against USA in Tokyo

Indeed, archery more than most sports puts emphasis on the mental fortitude of its athletes. At a tournament like the Paralympics, every competitor has the technical skill to unerringly hit the centre of the 80-centimetre target. The question is whether they can clear their head of all distractions and focus despite the immense pressure. Sports psychology is an essential ingredient in the training diet of any elite archer.

And when it comes to mental strength, Victoria Rumary is something of an expert. She took up archery as a 12-year-old but after surgery for epilepsy left her unable to walk, she stopped shooting at her local club in Lincoln. Away from the sport for four years, she visited her former coach to sell her old bows. Instead, she was convinced to take it up again, after being challenged: ‘Remind me, which part of the bow did you pull with your legs?’.

It was a sliding doors moment, ‘like a light being switched on’, as Rumary, now 33, puts it. After a stunning Games debut in Tokyo in the individual W1 classification, the sport has given her a Paralympic bronze. And like Stubbs, Paterson Pine and countless of their contemporaries, it has changed her life immeasurably for the better.

‘Archery has made a massive difference,’ Rumary says. ‘When I ended up in my chair I suffered from depression and anxieties and used to lock myself away in my room.

‘When my coach showed me I could go back to my club, my confidence just grew. Suddenly I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go to the shops again’ or ‘I’m going to meet my friends again’.

‘Having been through what I’ve been through, I’d encourage people to have a go. It’s changed me so much and it gives you something to get up for. Archery opened up the world for me again.’

John Stubbs, Phoebe Paterson Pine and Victoria Rumary were speaking at Archery Fit, an indoor archery club in Greenwich that offers services for people of all ages and abilities.

Phoebe Paterson Pine poses on the podium with her gold medal in Tokyo

Phoebe Paterson Pine poses on the podium with her gold medal in Tokyo

Everyone should be able to play sport, it’s not just about winning gold medals 

By Barry Horne, CEO, Activity Alliance 

The Tokyo Paralympic Games have been a fantastic showcase of elite sport at its finest. And what an achievement to see ParalympicsGB finish second in the medal table with a grand total of 124 medals. I have so many highlights: the awesome Dame Sarah Storey establishing herself as our greatest-ever Paralympian with an astounding 17th gold medal and Maisie Summers-Newton introducing herself to the Paralympic stage aged just 19 with two gold medals.

We can be so proud of the achievements of all our athletes. It was Ellie Robinson’s powerful post-race interview that summed it up for me — the journey we go on is just as important as the destination. As I look back on the Games and the light they shine on disabled people in sport, we must remember there are millions more disabled people who are waiting to find the opportunity to be active in their local area.

And for the majority of disabled people, sport is rarely about winning a gold medal. It is about staying healthy, connecting with others and playing sport simply for the love of it. Everyone deserves this right.

Every four years we heap deserved praise on the elite sportspeople who represent our nation, and rightly so, but we must consistently challenge ourselves to create equal access to sport and activity right across society. It is vital we recognise that whilst only a small percentage of disabled people in this country will want to or can become Paralympians, every disabled child and adult must enjoy a level playing field to being active — whether for fun during educational years and beyond, or at grassroots level.

As the leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, we know existing inequalities have widened as a result of the pandemic. Just over seven in 10 disabled people agree that the pandemic has made sport and exercise less fair for them.

It should not take disabled people hours of endlessly trawling local websites to find opportunities to stay healthy and get active. We all have a role to play in achieving fairness for disabled people in sport and activity. Often coaches or clubs simply just need a bit more support, training and confidence on how to make their environments more accessible. This makes it all the more essential that disabled people are represented more widely across all aspects of sport, including as leaders, coaches, officials and in media coverage. The crisis we have all been through over the last 18 months — and that we are trying to recover from now — has clearly made things worse for disabled people but we must use this moment to rethink and readjust. It’s an opportunity to do better and this means putting disabled people’s voices at the forefront of the call for change.

We know that there is a long way to go in closing this fairness gap. But the Paralympics we have just enjoyed can help by kickstarting a genuine attitude change. It is paramount that we address the stark inequalities that continue to stifle disabled people’s access to sport in the UK. Close to nine in 10 people (85 per cent) agree that attitudes about disabled people need to improve.

So if there is overwhelming support for a more equitable environment with better provision and funding, our task now, coming out of a magnificent Paralympic Games, is to make it happen. Let’s not wait for another major event to be talking about this again.

The way forward is to embed inclusive practices across all elements of strategy and delivery. This means understanding what investment it will take and its impact to ensure sport is more accessible and inclusive. We must not repeat this conversation after Paris 2024. It is imperative that disabled people experience real change now. Let’s embrace the opportunity and commit to being more inclusive than ever before.

Activity Alliance has advice and resources for those wanting to get active. To find out more, visit: activityalliance.org.uk

‘Inspiring just one person to play would be like winning another medal’ 

By Alex Jennings 

Britain’s first-ever medallists in Paralympic badminton hope their success in Tokyo can inspire a new generation of stars.

Dan Bethell, who won silver, and Krysten Coombs, who took home bronze, made history last month as para badminton made its long-awaited Games debut.

And though both men were delighted to secure a place on the podium in Japan, bringing the sport to the attention of millions back home was an even better feeling.

Krysten Coombs smiles with his bronze medal at the Paralympics homecoming in London

Krysten Coombs smiles with his bronze medal at the Paralympics homecoming in London

Coombs, 30, who came from behind against Brazil’s Vitor Goncalves Tavares in his bronze medal match, said: ‘For para badminton, being a new Paralympic sport, it’s great to see it’s getting more publicity. It’s what we want to see — a younger generation getting inspired, picking up a racket and hopefully one day they can be a Paralympic or Olympic champion themselves.’

Bethell, 25, added: ‘We’ve got an amazing opportunity with the amount of publicity the sport has got to drive that change and get more players involved.

‘If I can get just one person into para badminton and see him or her in a Paralympics in a few years’ time that would be amazing. That would be worth as much to me as winning a medal.’

Through their The Time Is Now campaign, Badminton England are looking to seize the moment and grow the sport. Bethell, who breezed through his group and semi-final in Tokyo before falling just short against India’s Pramod Bhagat, has been inundated with messages from people looking to pick up a racket.

He said: ‘It started happening straight after the final; people with my disability (cerebral palsy) and others, saying they were inspired by my performance and want to take up badminton.

‘To have that has been amazing but it’s also a responsibility because I want to make sure I use my success to show what the benefits of playing badminton are for people with disabilities.’

Coombs — a part-time actor who has appeared in Game of Thrones — has been equally encouraged by the reaction he’s received since Tokyo, and knows better than anyone the benefits of taking a step into the unknown.

‘I’ve had parents saying, ‘How can I get my kids into this? Where do I need to go?’ Just weeks after the Games there’s already a big buzz. Hopefully building up to Paris it will get bigger and better.

‘I used to be a swimmer, then I played table tennis and now I’ve gone to the Paralympics as a badminton player. You’ve got to get out there and give it a shot. ‘You might love it or you might not, but if you don’t try you’ll never know.’

Dan Bethell and Krysten Coombs were talking at the launch of Badminton England’s Big Hit week. To find a court or learn more visit www.badmintonengland.co.uk