John’s Rifle shooting Challenge.

I was invited by the Cambridge Shooting Association to complete my challenge with a match against Tom Holah at the Elizabeth Way road bridge range.

The first thing to note is the location of the range. Hidden away under the northern support of the bridge, thousands of residents, commuters and visitors pass over it every day unaware of its existence. Dave Holah, Tom’s dad, greeted me eagerly outside the plain, unmarked door that faces the river. Dave had enthusiastically embraced the Road2Rio challenge, providing an opportunity to try out an air rifle about four months ago. I was amused that while a group of four experts discussed the ways I might fire a gun, county coach Fred Haskett drifted away only to return with a spare rifle with its trigger guard removed. It worked: my right paw (yes, I call my short arms “paws”) could hold the rifle and rock on to the trigger sufficiently tenderly to fire accurately.
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Inside the range, a rather rudimentary building, the first room you enter is the well-appointed comfortable club room. Behind is the 10m range, painted white with target runners on wires that run from the bench to the back wall, the main feature. There is further into the complex a .22 rifle range too.

Power2inspire and the Cambridge Shooting Association had come together to hold an inclusive shooting day and we were delighted to welcome eight disabled and three non-disabled people to the range. Some were complete novices, all enjoyed it. Shooting is a remarkably inclusive sport. The equipment can be modified: indeed there is a photo of  Vic Morris. Vic is tetraplegic after breaking his neck in a rugby accident; he uses a device to aim and fire air both rifle and pistols, and has won national integrated competitions.

We welcomed Luke, his brother Ellis and girlfriend Anna, Oliver and his mum Jan, so the range was busy from the off with a wonderfully inclusive mix of ability, age and gender. Sandra Haskett, county coach and Gogs Cllub stalwart explained to me the mental and physical benefits of the sport. “Being part of a club, socializing and joining in, is good for our mental state. And there is research showing the increase in heart rate in competition and the consequent need to control that is good for our physical state to too!”
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Then I was allowed some practice. This was vital to me as I hadn’t shot in months. Fred Haskett, county coach too, helped loading the pellets and with a rest to take the weight of the air rifle, I was quickly back in the grove. This was my practice card!

It was soon time for the match. Tom has mild cerebral palsy and learning difficulties but is an experienced shooter. Oliver and his mum Jan are novices, but Matthew shoots for the Newmarket club, so we were an inclusive and wide ranging group. Dave announced the rules: 20 shots, 2 on each of the 5 targets on the two cards. We could have a practice card first and there would be no time limit.

With Fred assisting I started. It wasn’t as good as I had hoped or had been going in practice. Was competition making me tense? Yes! I forced myself to relax. I gradually improved. The first card scored 89 out of 100. Tom was scoring higher – game on. I was now in the grove, slowing my breathing, controlling that moment as the trigger is squeezed. I was thrilled with 96 out of 100, including six bulls.

Over to volunteer Ann, who was checking the marks with an official pin. I had scored 185. Tom scored 191 to win. Well done (gritted teeth, my competitive instinct kicking in!) to Tom. Dave says I am good enough to compete in the “bench rest” league, Matthew, that with training I could get my average up to 99 which is very competitive. I am very tempted!
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There were more people in the afternoon, friends Dominic, Alex and Seb from CADMuS to the fore. As Dave says shooting is a wonderfully inclusive sport as the equipment can be modified, the rules flexed so people with similar averages can compete against each other. Age is no barrier either. The real competition is with oneself, can you score better than you have done? Continual improvement – now there’s a goal.

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