Royal archer Kerrie Leonard grateful for chance to aim even higher in Tokyo Games

20

Vigilant guard dogs usually provide the biggest threat to delivery men but not at one house in Culmullin, Co Meath. Archer Kerrie Leonard uses the family’s tarmac driveway to shoot and collect her arrows and trains outdoors from March to October.

The postman has sometimes come around the corner and been very concerned. It’s not exactly what you expect when you’re delivering the post,” she grins.

Her family are organic beef farmers, so she’s under strict instructions also not to hit any stock, but there’s no fear.

Leonard is the only competitive wheelchair archer in the country but also the national champion.

“It’s testament to how inclusive archery is that I compete in integrated competition. Archery is all about core and back strength,” adds Leonard.

“You’ll have people in para-competition who don’t have control of their core but are still able to put in phenomenal scores. The scores of para-archers and mainstream competition are very comparable.”

Leonard has been a wheelchair user since a fall from the family tractor when she was just six, and it’s a measure of her personality that she marked the 20th anniversary of that incident with a sky-dive in 2017.

“Being so young has a lot to do with how well you adapt to the situation, and I’m from a farming family where everyone has so much responsibility. I’m the eldest of four, so all of the attention couldn’t just be on me. I don’t remember it being hard at all,” she insists.

“What was difficult was when I was getting older. Kids can be cruel, but that doesn’t happen when you’re six; that happens when you’re ten to 12, and you see the tone shift.”

She played every sport possible and grew up around horses as her father Eddie was a jockey.

She has a degree in Equine Business from NUI Maynooth, a Master’s in Marketing. Currently, she works for Facebook, but her eclectic CV includes working for the transport and logistics department of the London Olympics, where she got to witness Katie Taylor becoming Olympic champion.

She had tried archery when she was younger, but 2012 was also the year she reconnected with her coach Jim Conroy (a two-time Olympic archer). She made her international debut and discovered she was good enough to compete at world level.

She’s been a European silver medallist in the Compound Open discipline and a top-ten finisher at the 2015 World Championships but was heartbroken not to make Rio.

“You had to finish eighth at World Championship, but I was ninth. You had to win the Europeans, but I was second! You had to finish top three at the last qualifier, and I was seventh. I probably went through the five stages of grief afterwards but decided I didn’t want that to be the end to my archery story so came back again for this cycle,” stresses Leonard.

Coronavirus, which restricted travel and cancelled multiple events, threatened her Paralympics dream, but her competition history was good enough to earn her a wild card spot in Tokyo.

She shoots at a 48cm target 50 metres away using a compound bow. Competition starts with 72 arrows, which seeds competitors for the match-play section, which is her favourite. “I always thought I’d get here on merit, so I’m really grateful to get this opportunity and just hope I can execute what I’ve planned.”