- 11 Jul 08, 11:11 AM
A team of 11 archers will represent Great Britain at the Paralympic Games in Beijing in September and I would happily wager a few quid that they will not be returning home from China empty handed.
You could not wish to meet a more pleasant group. They really are an inspiring bunch , and in Tim Hazell they have an excellent coach. It's always a pleasure to be in their company, and they always make me feel very welcome.
But, delightful people though they may be, they are also very determined. There was no great celebration when the squad was announced, just a steely determination all around the room that achieving selection was only the start - all of them are focussed on being successful. And success means medals.
Kathy Critchlow Smith, from Oxford, knows a thing or two about medals. She's won four of them - a gold, two silver and a bronze - at four previous Paralympic Games, and at 59 is still very much at the top of her game.
Kathy is one of only two in the team to have featured at the Paralympics before.
The other is John Cavanagh, from London, who won an individual gold medal in Athens four years ago and will be attending his third Games.
So that means nine first-timers, and among them there are some inspirational stories.
Like John Stubbs, for instance. John's from Warrington, and after a road traffic accident in his early 20s he was twice given the last rites.
As a result of the accident, he lost a leg, but was determined not to wallow in self pity, and decided if that was the card that life handed him, he would make the most of it.
"I found solace in sport," he told me. "I used to play cricket, so after the accident I found disabled cricket and represented England. But then I got involved with archery, and I realised that archery was for me.
"Despite all that's happened, I can honestly say I wouldn't change any part of my life. Perhaps everything happens for a reason, and being involved with archery has been fantastic.
"Nobody can take away what I've achieved, and going to the Paralympics in Beijing will be the pinnacle of my achievement so far."
Kay Lucas, from Ludlow, had done archery years ago, but it took a serious injury in a car accident to inspire her to take up the sport once again. She started entering competitions and realised she was actually pretty good.
"I see people walking around wearing football shirts with the squad number of their favourite player, and I think to myself I have my own shirt, with my own name on it, and I've worked very hard for that," she says.
"I'm very proud of what I've achieved, and immensely grateful for all the support I've had, and I am totally focussed on winning a medal in Beijing. Going to the Paralympics is a dream come true, but being there will be only part of the experience."
There are stories like Kay's and John's throughout the squad.
Mike Karaphilides, from Luton, was born with spina bifida and proves that being in a wheelchair does not stop you enjoying an active sporting life. Mike is going to his first Paralympics as an archer - but his third in all, having represented his country at swimming and athletics in the past!
Fred Stephens, 62, from Hinckley in Leicestershire, was a businessman and always active before an industrial accident left him paralysed from the waist down.
"I never for one minute dreamt I'd represent my country at a major international sporting event, it's wonderful," he said.
And then there's Mick Beard, from Cornwall, who proves yet again the power of the media. Mick enjoyed following Larry Godfrey's progress in the archery tournament at the Athens Olympics.
Larry finished fourth, and Mick watched the highlights of the bronze medal match on television, and then decided he'd like to give archery a go himself.
Although he can stand up and walk without aid, Mick suffered an industrial injury a few years ago. He slipped a disc, which cut through his spinal disc. "I was paralysed down right hand side, and I'm still numb down that side."
When he first started archery he admits he'd never heard of the Paralympics. Now he is going to be taking part in them. "And I'm not going to China as a sightseer," he said.
Lynne Burton, from Chelmsford, qualified despite being hospitalised after complications arising from a liver transplant.
"I became disabled in 2000 as a side effect of transplantation. My feeling was that I have a transplant to have a life, and being in a wheelchair shouldn't stop me having a life!"
And last but not least, may I introduce you to the women's compound team - or The Three Degrees, as I call them.
In Danielle Brown from Skipton, Mel Clarke of Norwich, and Pippa Britton from Newport, Britain can claim three of the best archers of their division in the world.
As a team they are unbeatable, and individually they will almost certainly be rivals for the gold medal. But their attitude is first class.
"We're a team and we're friends," said Pippa. "If we compete against each other, we compete to win, and once one of us loses then we cheer on the others."
They are a fantastic bunch of people. They will do us proud in Beijing. And I feel privileged to be their cheerleader in chief!
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