I have been in an electric wheelchair for four years now, and a manual wheelchair for four years before that. Prior to that I was a fairly active and physical person. I wouldn’t call myself an outdoors type, but I did like to get out and do things, and I felt that these activities in part shaped my identity.

I have Muscular Dystrophy, and so for the last 10 years have been declining physically, but at the same time, I have taken on more activities in an attempt to prevent my identity from evolving into something based entirely around my physical disability. I have studied, earned a degree, and I’m building a sustainable arts practice as a painter.

Acquiring a disability has also helped me realise that I am free to pursue just about anything in life (within reason) and I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting things to take part in. Sometimes those activities feel as though they are right on the cusp of my ability.

My new activity

This year, out of the blue, I wondered if I would be able to shoot a pistol. I have two friends in wheelchairs that both shoot competitively and when I see someone else in a chair doing something interesting I often ask myself, “I wonder if I could do that?” And with that thought, I decided to find out.

I have trouble moving and lifting my arms, so I was not expecting to be able to raise and fire a pistol, but after enrolling in a “Try Shooting” session at a local indoor gun range (which I noticed has a very similar ambience to a bowling alley), I found that I could rest my arms out in front of me on a padded support and was easily able to aim and fire. Not only that, but out of my first twenty shots I scored 12 tens, which the instructor informed me was quite good.

I found the experience quite surreal; on the way to the range my hands were sweaty and I was very nervous. But after I had fired a few rounds and realised that I could do it successfully and was on par with everyone else, I was excited and for the rest of the day I was on a bit of a high. The act of shooting itself is quite intense: it requires poise and concentration, controlled breathing and focus, and then a release of intense energy followed by a sensory shockwave of sound and light and the smell of fireworks.

Having experienced that, I wanted more, and so set about applying for a pistol licence, an exercise that takes a minimum of 9 months to complete with a range of levels of competency and commitment that must be demonstrated along the way. In Australia, to have a pistol licence, one must be an active member of a pistol club and be shooting in club-organised competitions a minimum of 6 times a year. The club I have joined specifies once every 8 weeks and if that lapses, then your club membership is suspended, and with that so is your licence and right to possess a pistol. (All good safeguards.)

At this point you might be asking, “Why shooting?” Well, have you ever screwed up a piece of paper to simply try and land it in the rubbish bin? Or thrown a rock at a tin can? Or played darts? Marksmanship has been a part of our culture for hundreds if not thousands of years and satisfies some competitive element in our nature, whether competing against others or simply ourselves. Target shooting is the epitome of marksmanship.

Why does this matter?

My first few visits to the shooting range were filled with trepidation. I doubted that I would fit in, as I really didn’t see myself as the typical shooter. In reality though, I found that there was no typical shooter. People of all walks of life attend the range, including men and women, young and old. I have found an enclave within society that has turned out to be so very friendly and noticeably inclusive toward someone such as myself, someone with a distinct physical disability.

Target shooting provides a platform for people with disability to participate and compete with able bodied people on a level playing field if they choose. But I am also discovering a strong contingent of people with disability participating and there are groups that exist specifically for disabled shooters.

I wanted to share my experience, not to encourage you to come and try shooting, but to show that in some cases (in my case) many of the barriers that exist are firmly rooted in the mind.

Deep down, I honestly didn’t think that I would be able to participate in this sport and so for a long time I didn’t even try. But when I did try, I was surprised how quickly those barriers disappeared and became irrelevant, and I was again surprised and impressed at the effort other people would make, and the lengths that they would go to so that I was included.

While writing this article and talking about it with my partner we both touched on the importance of not sitting back and letting time pass waiting for the right moment to try something new. After all, life is not a dress rehearsal.

Andrew Grant

Andrew Grant

Andrew is an artist whose recent self-portrait, ‘Waiting for the NDIS’, was entered into for the Archibald Prize 2017. The portrait is a manifestation of the wait for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

To hear more from Andrew, or see some of his creative work, please visit his website.

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