What were you doing five years ago? I was telling myself to get started on that script I had always been saying I would write. It wasn’t going to write itself, after all. I’m no further forward than I was those five years ago. All that exists is the title, in my head. Time passes and life flies by with an unforgiving momentum. Events, people, places. It’s an easy question to ask yourself, and a hard question to answer; ‘Where did those last five years go?’
Look miles into the distance. See that little dot? That's the opposite end of the scale you're seeing. At that end of the scale, there are those who have taken the last five years and squeezed every last drop out of them. Take Leigh Walmsley, for example. Taking up archery to increase her friendship circle, Leigh now stands on the cusp of her debut appearance at the Paralympic Games, a member of the elite level of her chosen sport. From first picking up a bow to a home games and the pinnacle of an athlete’s career in just over half a decade.
All this has been achieved whilst suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating illness that inflames the joints of the body, affecting a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks. The assumption therefore is that it presumably makes firing an arrow into a target 12.2cm big that stands 70m away rather difficult, but that is exactly what Leigh will be attempting when lining up at the The Royal Artillery Barracks on August 30th. That’s 70 meters. Almost 230 feet. Or 10 storeys of a building. Quite a distance.
Leigh was kind enough to take time out of her preparation to speak with me about her expectations for the Paralympics and the extremely tenuous link between photo editing and archery. Blottr wishes her the best for the Games!
As a relative latecomer to archery, is appearing in the Paralympics something that you ever would have imagined achieving?
I never started archery to go down this path, but I feel honoured and privileged to have earned my place on the team.
You credit your teammate and partner John Stubbs as your sporting influence. Were you particularly sport-minded before getting involved with archery?
Not particularly. I liked swimming and bicycling, but had quite a bad accident age 11, which limited my activity. I ended up cheerleading, which was a good alternative.
You suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. How does this impact not only on your daily life, but also your ability to compete?
It can be difficult at times, especially when I'm having a flare. I manage the disease with medication, but it's not a cure, so I have to listen to my body and manage how physical I can be each day. Cold and damp, as well as hot and humid greatly affect me, so shooting in those conditions can be a struggle.
Has the archery become something of a 'serious hobby' or, despite the great strides you have made in the sport, do you still take part solely for fun?
It's more a job than a serious hobby, but it is still fun! It can be wonderful, frustrating, amazing, heartbreaking and joyful all in the same day. It never gets dull and my GB teammates and I love what we do.
How has archery affected your life since taking it up five or so years ago?
Archery has broadened my horizons. I've met so many fantastic people and it's certainly built my confidence. I never thought I would be doing anything like this. It's not a glamorous lifestyle in any sense. It's a lot of hard graft in order to challenge yourself.
Your Twitter bio lists you as a film fanatic and a photo buff. It might be a bit of a stretch, but do you see parallels between archery and your other interests? The constant search for perfection in form and execution?
I've never thought about it before, but I suppose there is a connection. I used to spend hours editing photos to get them perfect and now I spend hours trying to get my technique perfect. I think it was easier editing photos, to be honest!
What do you think of the profile of disabled sports in this country? Are you pleased with the level of exposure these Paralympic Games will receive or is there a lot more that can be done?
The profile of disabled sports and athletes in the UK has certainly increased in the run up to the Paralympics, which is very encouraging. I think all disabled athletes would love parity with our able-bodied colleagues, but we're headed in the right direction. We just need to keep up the support and interest once the London Paralympics are over.
Are we right in saying you hold dual nationality and were born in the US? Where do you consider home? Are there going to be any split allegiances come the Games?
Yes, I do have dual nationality. As I've lived, worked and trained most of my adult life here, I do see the UK as home. But I love my family who all live in America, and I do get homesick for them.
What would be your advice to people in a similar situation to you that perhaps aren't sure about how to get involved in sport for the less physically able?
There should be nothing to stop anyone with a disability from getting involved with sport. There are so many organisations now to help people take their first steps, that we're almost spoiled for choice. The best advice is to never give up trying.
How do you feel going into the Games? What are your expectations?
I'm excited about attending my first Games, but also focused on the task in hand. I'm going in without expectations and will enjoy myself, soak up the atmosphere, try my best and learn from the experience.
In terms of legacy, what are you hoping that the 2012 Paralympic Games does for disabled sport in this country?
My hope is that disabled sport and athletes will be as revered as able-bodied sports and athletes.
Finally, if you could meet any Olympian or Paralympian of the past or present, who would it be and why?
The list is endless! I'd be thrilled to meet any Olympian or Paralympian!