HITTING a bullseye when playing darts is hard enough for most, but a group of Cypriot visually impaired archers are proving that all is possible as long as you set your mind to it.
The group, students from the School for the Blind, consists of around 18 people aged between 25 and 60, amazed the public recently during the first games for blind archers, organised in Nicosia by the Cyprus Archery Federation (CAF).
The first thought when one hears about this, is most probably, how can a person who cannot see, be an archer? Well according to Olga Kantzilari, the coach for one of the team, in general, archers rely on their vision only about 5 per cent of the time. The rest is “technique and practice”.
“When archers compete at the Olympics, do you think they can see their targets from 70 metres distance?” she said. The only special equipment a visually impaired archer needs, is a base helping him or her better position themselves. The rest of the gear is the same used by any archer.
It all began about a year and a half ago, when Kantzilari, who is a physical education teacher at the School for the Blind, decided along with CAF coach Christoforos Farmakas, to launch a pilot programme with the participation of two people who have visual disabilities.
The positive results, prompted the urging of the school’s management to include archery in the programmes and activities it was offering to adults for the 2015-2016 academic year. The interest was huge, Kantzilari said, but the school was only able to accommodate half of the applicants.
Farmakas, who trains the school’s group weekly at the federation’s premises in Nicosia, said that a visually impaired athlete could very well have a 100 per cent success at aiming. He said that some of the athletes are blind, some have under 10 per cent vision.
“Most train once per week because they live in other districts and have no means of travelling to the archery field, located in Nicosia, some train twice per week,” Farmakas said.
The first blind archery games in Cyprus is only the beginning. Farmakas hopes for the team to participate in European and international games as well.
Cyprus, he said, is among few countries around the world providing the sport for the visually impaired. In the UK and the US, blind archery is more established, he said, but several countries haven’t even introduced it yet.
Blind archery, is the most recent sport to have official status within the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), and it is also a sub-category within para-archery, which is a registered sport in the Paralympics.
“The aim is to participate in international blind archery events,” Farmakas said. The advantage of archery, he said, is that there are no age restrictions, or physical requirements. Anyone can begin at any age. He added that it was also among the safest sports. But the sport is also a means of helping visually impaired persons to socialise with other athletes, he said.
One of the archers participating in the programme, Christos Misos, 35, from Ormidhia, travels to Nicosia once or twice per week to train.
Misos, who is blind in both eyes, really enjoys the sport. “There is no easy or difficult sport as long as it is fulfilling,” Misos said. As regards blind archery, “they presented it to me, I liked it, and so I took the decision (to get involved)”. In fact, he said, archery was easier for visually impaired people, than swimming or track running.
He is also impressed with the way Farmakas, the CAF, and all the other archers are supporting him and his team mates during training but also at the games, which took place earlier in the month.
“If one of us goes to the practice field and Christoforos is not there, there is no way not to receive assistance from someone else. They treat us like everyone else,” he said.
Having visually impaired archers training at the CAF field is also good for the younger archers, aged between 8 and 18, Farmakas said, because they learn to interact with them and learn that the blind are also able members of society.
“When we train, they (children) rush to help us, sometimes they argue as to who is going to stand next to us, to assist us,” Misos said.
For him, sports is for everyone, but unfortunately, he said, not every sports association in Cyprus is willing to offer training to the visually impaired or people with disabilities.
The School for the Blind, he said, tried several times to promote athletes, but it did not get muc of a response from organisations and society.
“Sports can help the visually impaired, as long as they themselves want to try but also only if society accepts they are able to do sports. If I decide to do another sport, I would like to be treated as a normal person… (the coach) should not have reservations in explaining a few things to me,” Misos said.
He added that the biggest challenge the visually impaired face, which hinders socialisation is transportation, as they need someone to drive them to sports training or other events, thus forcing many to abandon training.
He said that the School for the Blind provides assistance within its means but that the government should introduce all those measures to help the visually impaired use public transportation, like tactile paving to help them walk to bus stops, placing information in Braille, and introducing audible announcements to be able to hear which bus arrives and to be able to know where to get off.
The director of the school for the blind Layia Karpasiti said that interest in the sport “exceeded their expectations”, and that the school will give them all the support and help they need, within the right framework.
She added that archery is a sport for everyone and some had expressed insecurities or reservations as to whether they could do it. “They have the potential. They have proved they are willing and able,” she said.