26 September 2023

"Nothing else matters – apart from my book" by Jess Stretton

“Not very big into sports” ParalympicsGB archery gold medallist Jess Stretton let’s us into her love of books and the bow…

I’ve always been an avid reader; my teammates joke that archery gets in the way of my reading. I love fantasy books – magic, dragons and witches. They provide me with an escape to another world that I love.

Initially reading was a useful distraction technique during archery to stop me becoming too nervous - plus I was on a really good book at the time and I just didn’t want to put it down.

I may look calm and focused, but I’ve had to work hard at being ‘in the zone’. I’ve been shooting for so long, my muscle memory is ingrained – so sometimes when I do think about it, I lose track of what I’m doing. Sitting with a book on my lap, that I can pick up at any moment, stops me from overthinking my shooting. Plus I don’t know how else I’d find time to read - and that would make me really sad. So I carry two or three books with me all the time and read when I can during my training and competitions. If it’s raining I use my Kindle, keeping it dry in a zip lock bag.

I have well over 500 books at home, but I do have one favourite, which I class as my comfort book. It’s called Poison Study by Maria V Snyder, and I’ve read it about a dozen times. I tend to always take it to competitions - if things aren’t going to plan I know having that with me will make me feel happier.

I’m also a big Harry Potter fan. I have the Deathly Hallows symbol tattooed on my wrist – I got that done as a present to myself after Tokyo 2020. My Mum read the first couple of books to us as children, then I read the rest. I’ve got loads of copies of all the books dotted around the house.

Thwack: Jess in action at Tokyo 2020 prep camp

I first got involved in archery after London 2012, when I was 12-years-old. I’d just gone in to my first wheelchair and was struggling a bit with how to deal with that change – I wasn’t coping well, so a schoolteacher suggested I go to an activity weekend run by Wheelpower, the national charity for wheelchair sport.

At first I tried wheelchair racing and I loved it; my mum had to drag me away when it was time to go and try archery. But from the moment they put the bow in my hand and I shot my first end, I just knew. The ‘thwack’ as the arrow hit the target was so satisfying, I realised this was the sport for me. A few months later, a letter arrived from Archery GB inviting me to a camp. My journey with archery had begun.

That said, I’m not very big into sports – perhaps a strange thing for a sportsperson to say – but I am very competitive, a trait I honed growing up with my twin sister Amelia. Archery was something I could do that didn’t take masses of energy; I could shoot at my own pace. It was calm, everyone was really friendly and encouraging. Without archery I wouldn’t be anywhere near sport. I fully believe there’s a sport out there for everyone, you just have to find out what it is. I was one of the lucky ones.

The set up at Archery GB is really good as they encourage us to think about life after sport too. You never know what could happen with injuries and things, so I’ve recently completed a proof reading course as back up. Ultimately, I’d love to be a librarian and proof read on the side. I believe you should follow your passions, and for now that means focusing on me, my bow and arrows and the target.

Nothing else matters – apart from my book.

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