The newest member of the Tokyo Paralympics team, Hazel Chaisty, talks exclusively to Bow
Great Britain is sending five archers to the Tokyo Paralympics, due to start on 24 August. Three – Jess Stretton, John Stubbs and Nathan Macqueen – are experienced Paralympians, and two are recurve archers making their debuts at the Games. Hazel Chaisty and Dave Phillips – the latter only confirmed following classification at the beginning of June – will compete as a recurve mixed team.
Derbyshire-based Hazel, who has been training full-time for the Games at Lilleshall National Sports Centre and is in her seventh year as an archer, said: “I used to do running and mountain biking, and scuba diving was a mainstay in my earlier years. When I lost my leg, I was still looking for something to take that place because I was bored and depressed. Just sitting at home I was absolutely going out of my mind.
“Someone suggested archery and I took to it straight away. But it seemed to be a lot of older people, the kind of guys who sat and drank tea at six o’clock on a Thursday evening and shot a few arrows, and it just wasn’t exciting enough. I shot longbow for a while, but I was at a club where I could only shoot once a week. Eventually I joined my ‘now’ club, which is Goldcrest Archers, where I could shoot any time and very quickly after that I picked up the love for archery.”
Hazel’s journey to Tokyo began when she saw an advertisement for people with disabilities for Archery GB. “They were looking specifically for ladies to take to Rio for the Rio Paralympics [in 2016]. I didn’t quite make the cut for that – I had a couple of injuries. It still seems weird to say that ‘I’m going to Tokyo.’”
Chaisty won a spot for Team GB at the World Para Championships in Den Bosch in 2019. “I didn’t qualify particularly high, but there was a second chance to make the Paralympics and I happened to scrape into that one. And I say scrape, because I’m still learning every day and was very excited – it was the biggest event I’d ever been to. I shot absolutely fantastically for me. I couldn’t be more elated with myself.
“I didn’t even have my coach [Charlotte Burgess] behind me, but I had Andrea Gales going, ‘Come on, strong and confident’, and it all just clicked and went together. I was there to win a place and I crumbled after that, because I was just, I’ve done what I came to do. It was the biggest achievement I’ve ever had,” she added.
Chaisty had won the spot for GB, but she took the actual place after a good result at a competition in Dubai in 2020, and a selection of other good results in the previous years. “The recurve ladies haven’t historically brought masses of bling back from the Paras. But the last few places we’ve been I’ve managed to bring something back, either a place or an individual medal, or a team medal with Dave [Phillips]. That showed in the progression of my scores.”
Chaisty has gone as far as to develop a different persona for the shooting line – in her case, a Viking warrior called Freya.
“Generally, I’m quite a softy and like to say hello and go around and pat everyone on the back and be the mother hen. Me and Dave together are like the mum and dad of archery and, you know, I want to make sure everyone’s got a hot drink. But it doesn’t serve me well in archery,” she admitted.
“So the psychologists and I have created this persona for myself and we call her Freya, she’s a Viking. I mean I’m 6ft, you know. If I’m not cuddling people, I can put on a presence that is intimidating and that’s all part of the play. I was too busy going, ‘I hope you do well’ rather than ‘Raah, fear me!’ I found out that a third of my DNA was from that part of the world, and I love all that fantasy warrior stuff. So it ticked my boxes. If I shoot angry I shoot well. If I let ‘Hazel’ take over, it’s a bit iffy.”
It’s a different take on the well-known positive and inclusive atmosphere in the para community. “You know, when we sit on the sidelines and watch somebody else, we will pick a side and clap for the ones who aren’t getting as much clapping. So yeah, it’s friendly. But when you get on the line next to somebody, you are not their friend. I’m friendly with the teams, but when I’m in Freya mode, I’m getting on the front of that ship.
“You look at New Zealand doing the haka, and it’s the same thing. It turns out you can do that in archery, too.”
Hazel and the other para archers have been using heat chambers to prepare for the heat and humidity in Tokyo, and are planning to arrive nine days before the competition to acclimatise – more than most teams.
“We are always trying to look for the angle of getting ahead,” she explained. “So we’re going to get ahead by being completely acclimatised.Stubbsy [John Stubbs] has been to a few Paralympics, the other guys have been to one each and I was in Rio as part of an experience programme, so I did get to get the feel of the event even though I wasn’t competing. Stubbsy’s been great. He’s been saying: try to enjoy it because you’ve already achieved something massive to get there.
“Of course, everybody wants gold. You wouldn’t be coming if you didn’t want to win a medal but there’s only one gold medal and, you know, there’s 40 of you out there competing for that. So the chances of you getting it are slim. And that’s the top and bottom of it. If you go there fighting for it, you probably won’t do it because you’ll be over-stimulated.”
Chaisty and the team are also mentally preparing themselves against a backdrop of gloomy news from Tokyo, but she – or perhaps Freya – is in no doubt.
“I’ve earned this spot to go to a Paralympics. I’m going. I don’t care if I’ve got to wear pink. I’m going.”