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Thwack! The unmistakable, satisfying, not to mention relieving sound echoed around the outdoor Archery range at the Protea Sports grounds last week on Wednesday 27 August.
A familiar sound and sensation; reminisent of the satisfying sound a dart makes when it hits and sticks in the board, as opposed to the sickening racket it makes when it misses, hits the wall and clatters to the ground.
It's the sound of triumph, relief and real pleasure.
The smiles are broad and unstoppable, perhaps even a little smug. Oh all right, very smug.
We've proved something, it worked!
The blind and visually impaired can do Archery.

Privately, though, its relief more than anything, that floods through me at that sound. This has all been so fast and unbelievable, the vindication of our glib conviction, without any tangible evidence; that the blind can be archers.

Of course it is not a new concept at all, the blind have been competent archers, certainly since, if not before, the early 70's in the UK. But apparently it has not been formally attempted or adopted in South Africa till now.

48 hours before, that Wednesday evening, we were still under the impression that no one in archery circles in Cape Town believed it was possible.
It all began a couple of weeks before as the search to find an amenable archery club or organisor that could arrange a blind archery demonstration and experience for the 90th commemoration of ST Dunstans; the association of war blinded veterans, to be held in November 2008.

The connection to ST Dunstans is fitting, as it was the original ST Dunstans that began Blind Archery in the UK in 1972.

It would be an understatement to say that long time archer and coach, Richard Baufeldt responded enthusiastically. Quietly, without fuss or prompting, he heard the request, kept his feelings to himself, went on the web and, using what resources were available, created the necessary tactile sighting stand and stance jig. He then took a leap of faith and tested it himself, then contacted us and said: "sure I reckon its possible, and I have made the necessary equipment to test it with a visually impaired archer, can you meet me at Protea on Wednesday?".

Two days later, before I knew it, I was being driven by Sonet the Welfare manager of ST Dunstans to Diep River to the Protea Sports Club to meet Richard and with absolutely no idea as to what to expect when we got there.

I must point out that I am in fact not a ST Dunstaner but rather one of two visually impaired Board members of that organization. My involvement had been to be part of the arrangements of the 90th function.

I had long had an interest in the principle and mythology around archery, and knew of the blind archery interest amongst the UK ST Dunstaners, but had not in fact ever touched a proper professionally made bow or arrows, let alone shot one.

So it was with a weird misture of considerable reverence and great impatience on my part when Richard introduced me to; the bow, the arrows, the butt and of course the tactile stand.
To his credit, he did not prolong the induction, but it seemed like ages before he said the magic words; "would you like to shoot?"
I wanted to shout; "Are you kidding? I thought you would never ask!"

Place the feet in a jig that positions you exactly perpendicular to the Butt. Notch an arrow, careful to get the rotation of the fletching right. Guide the back of my bow-hand to the tactile stand. Three fingers on the string, separated by the knocking butten.
Draw the string back, bow-shoulder down, string elbow up, touch the chin and nose with the string, kiss the butten. Look directly toward the Butt. Release!
It was so fast. Hollywood has mislead us by depicting the deadly, majestic arching flight of the arrow in countless movies, so it was with almost shock that the sound followed so soon. But I knew that sound. It meant that the arrow had struck the actual cardboard target face.
Not sunk into some corner of the butt, or sailed ignominiously over, past or under the target, but, slap bang into the target face.


By Jeremy Opperman
September 2008