For one competitor, a national championships victory was anything but routine
For Allison Wright, simply getting to the start line of a national competition was quite an achievement. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2020, she was not expecting to be competing, let alone entering championships in 2021.
Two points behind Christine Marshall of Viper Archers overnight, Wright achieved the highest women’s wooden arrow score on the Sunday to win the American Flat Bow class at the Nationals by 28 points. Commenting on her win, Wright said: “Sometimes dreams really do come true.”
Wright is also one of the relatively few archers to ‘cross the bridge’ back and forth between the NFAS and EFAA codes, and the national and international World Archery field and 3D competitions. She took up archery age 50, when she was still known as Allison Kelly, and has now been shooting for six years.
“I started competing after about 18 months and I was useless but I loved it. Absolutely loved it,” she revealed. “Then, when I got my act together, I realised I was actually left-eye dominant and shooting right-handed. So if I shut one eye, I could see what was in and out and I could hit things.
“I won virtually everything that I shot after that. I won the NFAS 3Ds and the Nationals the same year. I went indoor shooting in ArcheryGB and set 13 or 15 county barebow records. In NFAS barebow you don’t stringwalk, it’s similar to World Archery instinctive class. You have one anchor point, and your finger must touch the nock.”
The next step was obvious: Wright wanted to find out how to shoot for Great Britain.
“I realised I was going to have to buy a new bow and the way forward was to shoot instinctive class,” she said. “Two weeks before the AGB 3D nationals I couldn’t even draw it because I had a back injury. I thought: ‘I’ll just go for experience this year’, but then I absolutely smashed the GB records.
“They said, if you can get another score you’ll go to Canada to the 3D World Championships. I got it and went, and was the highest-finishing GB archer.
“When it comes down to single arrow shooting, because you’ve come from NFAS it’s all about getting that first direct shot in the bag first time. I shot within three points of John Demmer. Those elimination rounds were absolutely made for me.”
After a break, Wright considered shooting longbow but then was diagnosed with terminal cancer – mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs. Treatment with an experimental drug has alleviated her symptoms enough so she can shoot. “I’m not meant to be here.
“They gave me six to eight months to live last June. But I’m still kind of plodding along. In June this year I literally couldn’t even shoot 10 shots. So I’m thrilled to bits to be at the nationals, although it’s probably only because it’s local.”
Allison deliberately crossed the bridge, as it were, going to ArcheryGB to try and learn to ‘shoot straighter’. “Although I went to a coach who said they didn’t know what to do with me and my particular style. He said: ‘If I change things now it could actually be detrimental’.
“Because there is no pathway in 3D shooting in this country, you never really get ‘picked up’. It’s about your own drive and determination, to work your way through the system and find out how to do it. You get very little press from the ArcheryGB side. Even in previous internationals, the team wasn’t announced until we were actually coming home on the plane.
“But the only way to change that is for people to step in and be successful. The talent is definitely there. There are people coming through now who are very exciting to watch, and it’s a good place to be. To make it bigger,
it would take more input from clubs in general, more have-a-gos. There are ways to practise it without going to the woods.
“If you look at indoor shooting, one of the most successful tournaments in the calendar year is the Lancaster Classic. You want to do that. The most exciting thing to watch at Lancaster are the barebows. No ifs or buts. You get the compounders there, and they’re fantastic at what they do, but for people watching outside [the sport], it’s more exciting.
“Even in World Archery, when they did the Roma Classic and they put the longbows on, it was unbelievably exciting to watch. It grips you. It makes great television.”
Wright has even dipped into coaching. “I’ve had a couple of girls under me wing. I’ve been mentoring them and they both qualified to shoot for Great Britain this year in 3D. Unfortunately, they couldn’t go out to Slovenia for the Europeans. But I’m very big on encouraging people to to make the step across to international competition.
“The very best shooters here in the UK could make the jump. There’s this huge untapped basin of talent and not enough back and forth between the different societies. It’s such a shame for the community. But you don’t have to go that far. You can just come out and have a lot of fun in the woods,” Wright enthuses.
“It’s like being a little kid again. Which is always a nice thing, but I think 3D shooting generally has a much more relaxed feel compared with target. I personally hope we get more dialogue between societies. Everything is made more difficult because the insurance isn’t interchangeable.”
Despite the terminal nature of her condition, Wright indicated her will to keep going, as long as she can. “It’s that pull of archery. It’s something that I wished I had found when I was younger, right. That’s my only regret. Because I would love to see what I could do with years of shooting. But yeah, I will always dream, OK?”