Monday, 7 October 2019

In Australia for the World Championships

As the World Championships gets closer, now less than a week away, I thought it was time to write another blog post. Last week saw me take the longest flight I have taken up to now as I flew out to Australia. This is also the first time I have been outside Europe for shooting, so many new things for me. I had decided to fly out early so that I would have time to acclimatise.

The first couple of days were not shooting related, time to be a tourist and find where things are in Sydney. However by Sunday it was back to work at the shooting centre doing some training and to take my first shots on another continent. First up was training standing It was good to get going again and find out that everything had survied the flight and was working correctly.

After a break for some lunch and it was into training the prone. May be I started too soon after lunch as things weren't quite feeling right and I was feeling a bit sleepy. After a short walk around to wake me up a bit, back into the prone shooting and everything was back to normal again.

So all seems to be going to plan and I am feeling positive for the upcoming championships. So today I was back being a tourist, going on one of the access tours of the Sydney Opera House and then to the maratime museum. Both were very interesting and had things I could appreciate, well worth doing if you are in Sydney.

I plan to have a couple more training sessions before the championships begins. My first competition is prone on Tuesday 15 October. Keep watching here on my blog, my FaceBook page or my Twitter page for updates.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Changes in my prone

Since I started my prone back at the end of march this year we have made many alterations to my position as we keep learning things. I thought I would give a bit more detail on how my position has been evolving and why we are still changing things when there is only weeks to go until the World Championships.

Right at the beginning we started by trying to have me square on to the target facing down range, so my upper body was somewhat like the standard prone position. I just could not get on with that position at all,I kept dropping my left shoulder, the rifle never felt correct in the right shoulder, etc. Then there was the problem of the pain in my left hand, although that might have been related to the glove I was using.

The next thing I tried was to sit at an angle to the target. This brought my shoulders round to something closer to my standing position and I seemed to have much less trouble with keeping the shoulders level. Whether this was to do with the position being better for me or whether it was that it was just more familiar because of it being closer to my standing I am not sure. After changing the glove I had a position comfortable enough that I could start thinking about shooting a full 60 shot match.

I stuck with this position for a while getting used to it and it was the position I used whilst out in Croatia at the World Cup. The problem though was that the angles of my arms were quite low and so we had fitted a long extension to the butt plate. This made it difficult to reach to load with the rifle in position and the only way to adjust the sights was to take it out of my shoulder. This is when we started looking at a forend extension and reducing the length of the butt to bring everything back towards me. At first I was borrowing a forend extension from a club member, this did seem to help as it reduced the stretching when loading, I could adjust the sights in position and it moved the weight back a bit. The forend extension I borrowed had a height adjustment piece which unfortunately was getting in my way and so we looked at making a forend extension.

The custom forend was not going to be attached for long as last Friday we had Mike, one of the coaches at British Shooting, come to have a look at my prone and give us some help. His suggestion was to increase the angle of my arms, which we did by raising my seat. By bringing the arms up a bit means that they are better able to support the rifle and my hold seemed to improve when we did that. It also means my left hand is not as far forward and so we could remove the forend extension.

I may have joked about all these changes and how it seems like I have something different every time I go training. However I think now probably is the time to do all this as I don't want to get too attached to one position which might not really be ideal. We have much learning to do and we won't find things out unless we experiment. Based on how well I did in the World Cup, hopefully with these improvements, I should be in with a good chance at the World Championships and I am feeling quite positive.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Call for VI shooters

In the past I have mentioned about wanting other vision impaired shooters to take up the international disciplines. One reason is that I enjoy the sport and I want to share it with others so that they too have the opportunity to participate in the sport and to do it at the highest level they can. However this is not the only reason.

Here in the UK we actually have quite a strong domestic form of the sport with may be about 100 or more vision impaired shooters. The vast majority of these do support rest shooting from a spring stand, only a few in the UK actually shoot either of the international disciplines. Also the national vision impaired shooting competitions are all shot using the larger air pistol target where as internationally the air rifle target is the standard. In short I am the only vision impaired shooter from the UK who currently shoots internationally. There are times it can feel quite a lonely place to be as I don't feel like I belong to any team.

My local shooting club has been very welcoming and supportive, in fact I couldn't have asked for more. I have mentioned about going to national competitions and shooting against sighted shooters. It has been great going to those competitions with fellow club members and in some cases working to place higher in the results. However these competitions are only a fraction of what they do and over the summer there have been a number of outdoor competitions where club members have gone to which I cannot compete in. Then there are my international competitions which I am doing separate to club members.

Historically vision impaired shooting has been quite separate from the rest of disabled shooting in GB, probably partially due to the competitions being held separate. Even though I am now going to the same international competitions as the rest of the parasport shooting team, I still feel external to the team. At this point I have not done any training with the rest of the team and so when I am at the competitions whilst I may recognise some of the names, I would not say I necessarily know the other GB shooters. Also for all my international events I have had to make all my own arrangements for travel and hotels rather than being invited to travel with the rest of the team. This though does have its advantage as it gives me the freedom to choose what suits me better, such as taking a cheaper route to the World Cup and not being restricted to wheelchair accessible hotels.

So if we had a few more British vision impaired shooters doing international disciplines then may be we could have a vision impaired shooting team. It would be nice to have some others doing the same shooting as me who I could relate to and may be we could even look at competing for the team medals at international competitions.

So how do I see more people taking up the international disciplines? I feel that prone might be the way in. For people trying shooting for the first time you could start them doing 10m air rifle benchrest with a support whilst they learn the basics of shooting. If they started on the air rifle target then they could enter league competitions against sighted shooters from the beginning. As they get better the only thing which would need changing is the support for a sling. As they learn using the sling they could still enter the benchrest leagues and once they reach a standard where they could be considered for international competition they would be able to start shooting internationally. Standing is quite challenging and I accept fewer probably will take it up, but hopefully those capable of it would be willing to give it a go once they have had the taste of prone at international competition.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Does blindness mean darkness?

Although I chose the name "A shot in the dark" for my blog and FaceBook page relating to my shooting, you may be surprised to learn that being blind is not the same as seeing darkness. In this post I will give you my personal experience, however remember that it may be different for others. Also remember not all who are vision impaired are totally blind, some may have some sight and for these the amount of sight and how it affects them may differ from person to person.

So a little history about me. I have always had sight problems since birth. At first I could see a little bit, enough to see colours, basic outlines and with the help of very strong magnifiers I could even read some print. However my eye condition meant that my sight would gradually deteriorate over time, eventually ending with no sight.

One of the problems with gradual loss of sight is that the brain can be very good at filling in what it expects. This can make it very difficult to actually know how much you can see as you go about day-to-day tasks. It is not until you notice that you are missing things or when you get your sight tested before you realise that your sight has got worse. As an example this time last year I could just perceive light with my right eye but now I have no sight at all. I could not say exactly when within that year I lost the light perception, around April I started to notice I was making mistakes about whether a light was on in the room and at my sight classification in Croatia I had confirmation from someone else that there was no longer light perception. Even though I know I have no light perception, my brain still fills in seeing the light come on when I press a light switch in my house.

As well as creating sensible images to fill in for a lack of sight, the brain can come up with some really strange images as well. I have heard someone say that flying chickens is a fairly common image to get, although it really can be anything you could possibly imagine. This seeing things which are not there is known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Some can find this quite disturbing particularly if they do not know what is going on and why they are seeing these images. Fortunately I had a doctor explain this to me around the time I first encountered it and so knowing nothing is wrong I have just learned to live with it going on.

The brain can keep doing this for years after sight is entirely lost. I lost all sight in my left eye back in 2006 and I am still seeing a glowing colourful pattern in my left eye today in 2019. I do not think my left eye has seen dark in all the years since I lost the sight in that eye. So may be "A shot in the dark" is not an accurate description for me, however I found the title too tempting when I found available as both a web address and a FaceBook page.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Learning from training under time pressure

In the lead up to the World Cup I had been focusing very much on training and getting the correct position. This though meant that I had not given so much attention to the timing of the competition and I was feeling a bit detached from how I shoot under competition conditions. Whilst the time has not been a particular issue for me, it still caused some problems as the pressure of knowing I was restricted in time meant that I would sometimes rush a shot when I should have taken a bit more time. So I want to solve this in readiness for the World Championships so that I don't rush any shot.

To overcome the problem I decided it was time to start doing training under timed conditions so that it becomes normal. It would mean I would be used to judging how long I am taking and the time remaining, but also it would mean that in competition I feel I need not do anything different to my training.

The last week I have spent some time training the 5 shot series, those which come at the start of a final. My reason for this choice is that they are a medium length and so possibly the most difficult to judge. In qualifying competitions there is plenty of time ans so it is possible to check with my assistant about how long remains. In the single shots in a final the time is sufficiently short that I think I can judge that reasonably well.

The first thing which became clear is that when you cannot see the time available, you need a bit more than the 10 seconds warning which is given in a final. We think that may be a minute is about the correct amount of warning for a 5 shots series.

Today in training it became clear that whilst I can shoot very well in this timed condition, it is noticeable when I am getting tired or distracted. I was just shooting the 5 shot series, doing about 60 shots in total but leaving only a little gap between each series. As I started to tire the time I took for each series started to get longer and a few bad shots started to creep in. Once this became obvious I took a slightly longer break before the next 5 shot series and I then started to shoot faster and the quality also returned.

Whilst in competition I would never shoot so many 5 shot series, this training possibly has helped to identify when I start to get tired and when I really should be taking a break in my qualifying competitions. Finals are a bit different as they are shorter and you cannot determine the pace of shooting. Instead in a final you need to work out how best to use the time between shots to prepare for the next one.

Since doing this timed training I am starting to feel better about my shooting and more ready for competing at the World Championships. I think I will be continuing it for at least the next few weeks. Who knows what else it may teach me about my shooting.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Give your view on blindfolds in vision impaired sport.

In a previous post I gave my view on the topic of blindfolds in vision impaired shooting. It is now time for you to give your view on the topic.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

To see or not to see

To see or not to see, that is the question in vision impaired shooting. Whether it is fairer to require all to wear opaque glasses or not.

World Shooting ParaSport made provision in the international rules to allow them to designate competitions requiring all shooters to wear opaque glasses. Whilst no competition this year has been designated as such, there definitely is talk about enforcing it sometime soon. The thought is that it is obvious when watching vision impaired shooting to identify who has some useful sight and who has not. There is a thought that those with some useful sight are gaining an advantage through their sight and that it can make a mockery of the sport. The solution being proposed is opaque glasses to try and equalise the sport.

As you may imagine there are some who really oppose this idea. I am mixed in my views on this. My biggest objection is more from a disability ethics point of view, I feel it is wrong to make someone more disabled than they normally are. In no other part of life do we ever consider disabling someone further, in fact we normally try and encourage people to make the most of what they have. So why is sport different? I fully appreciate the need for creating an equal playing field, but why take such a negative approach, surely a more positive approach by creating adaptations and allowances for those with less sight would be better. As an example of a positive approach I would use blind cricket as an example where totally blind batsmen must have at least two bounces of the ball and blind fielders may make a catch even when the ball has bounced once. Admittedly creating positive adaptations and allowances is more difficult, they may be more complicated for people to understand and may not satisfy some that equality has been achieved.

So if we put the ethics to one side and accept that opaque glasses are a workable proposal, will they help create an equal playing field and give the correct image of the sport?

One significant objection is that those with partial sight are less adapted to life without sight and so the opaque glasses would disproportionally impact upon them. They claim that those who have no sight will be better adapted due to living with no sight 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whilst those with partial sight may train with the opaque glasses, this training time will never compare with being in the condition permanently. Whilst I accept this argument to an extent, it cannot be ignored that the totally blind person may have other disadvantages such as limited training time due to not being able to train independently, greater difficulty in learning certain sport concepts due to not being able to visually watch a demonstration and also not being able to use some visual training techniques such as position training with a mirror. Also for those who have been blind since birth, they may never have developed certain skills such as balance when they were younger as they never had the visual queues to help perfect the skill.

There is also an informational inequality within the sport. By this I mean those who can see the electronic target display are likely to have far more information than a shooter with no sight. The phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words" comes to mind. As good as my assistant is, they cannot give me anywhere near the same information about the group shape, size, position, etc in a timely manner as a sighted person can by taking a quick look at the display. Also in a final where time is limited, it is much quicker to visually look at the time remaining, instead I would need to signal to my assistant I want to know how much time remains, the assistant needs to check the time and then communicate this back to me. If taking a positive solution approach, then one possible option would be to consider giving those with limited sight additional time to allow for the time it takes for the assistant to provide the detailed information. How practical that would be in competition I am not sure. The last thing to say about information communication is that those who cannot see the display fully rely on their assistant and must have full trust that the assistant has got it correct. If you can also see the information, then you can form your own opinion and decide whether to ignore the assistant or not.

So in conclusion, from a practical point of view I can see how using opaque glasses may equalise the sport. Whilst they may disadvantage those with some sight, we must remember that those who are totally blind may face additional disadvantages as well. When considered as a whole, based on reasoned argument I think it may actually result in something fairly equal, but it may be good if research could actually be done to confirm this. However the ethical aspect does bother me, making people more disabled does not feel like something which should be acceptable in this day and age, we really should be taking a more positive approach.

In Australia for the World Championships

As the World Championships gets closer, now less than a week away, I thought it was time to write another blog post. Last week saw me take t...