Farm life suits archer Kerrie-Louise Leonard

Irish archer sees progress from practicing in driveway 20 Aug 2019
Woman in wheelchair being interviewed by media
Kerrie-Louise Leonard was Ireland's only athlete at the 2019 World Championships
ⒸWorld Archery
By Lena Smirnova | For the IPC

Ireland’s Kerrie-Louise Leonard has a target set up in her front driveway, where she practices to make her Tokyo 2020 Paralympic dreams become a reality. 

 “The driveway to my house is tarmacked,” Leonard explained. “It’s a smooth surface and it’s a very long driveway. I have 50 metres on it, so I set my target up on the side of my driveway. 

“When people drive in they see a target. It’s very strange, but I sit 50 metres from it and I shoot just outside my house.”

This unique training ground has led Leonard to her personal best result. At the 2019 World Archery Para Championships in June, Ireland’s sole archer shot 664 in classification of the women’s compound open.

She hopes her constantly improving results will lead to Tokyo 2020. But she also wishes there were more competition in her own country. 

“It’s very difficult to find people to get involved in archery in Ireland,” Leonard said. “The athletes who were already competing previous to myself, they found self-funding a very difficult hurdle to get over and so that stopped a lot of archers from competing. For me, I want to compete at a Games and so, until that happens, I’m going to continue to compete in the sport.”

“There’s plenty of protection for any of the public, so it’s not scary,” she said. “It’s a very quiet, quiet road. Nobody ever comes near.”

No trespassing

Leonard’s father is a cattle farmer, and she has lived on a farm since she was a child. While her family are horse enthusiasts, Leonard was keen to take up a sport of her own. Luckily, the farm in South Midlands proved to be the perfect training ground.

“I needed a little bit of my own thing to do, so once I got the target, it asked my dad to find me a little bit of space – he had plenty of space to spare – so I just had to ask for somewhere I could train at home and not risk hitting a cow,” she said.

Cows aside, Leonard reassures that her guests should not worry about having arrows shot at them.

“There’s plenty of protection for any of the public, so it’s not scary,” she said. “It’s a very quiet, quiet road. Nobody ever comes near.”

Her coach, Irish Olympian Jim Conroy, lives 15 minutes away. 

Once those coaching sessions are done, however, it is up to her to hone the skills on the farm. While Leonard has not managed to qualify for Tokyo 2020 yet, she is showing progress. 

“My form has been slowly improving,” she said. “Since my last World Championships I’ve jumped over 20 points, so it’s been a significant jump.”

In July, Leonard graduated from a master’s programme in marketing, and the 28-year-old has since been balancing training and searching for a new job.

“At home in Ireland, we don’t have full-time training,” Leonard said. “We train around work and around studies so for me to be able to improve or even to get up to the standard to be able to compete [at the World Championships] is really important.”

Archery is a self-funded sport in Ireland, and it costs an average archer between EUR 1,500 and 3,000 every year to fund their training, which does not include buying or replacing equipment.

Fortunately for Leonard, she can at least skip the fees of renting training space.

“I live on a farm, so I have plenty of space,” she said. “Training venue is free, except for a target, which I had to purchase.” 

From negatives to positives

When Leonard was six, she fell from a tractor and the back wheel drove over her, leading her to paralysis below the waist.

Leonard took up Para archery when she was 12, but then gave it up until she went to university. Making her comeback to the sport as a university student, she has competed internationally since she was 24.

Now, more than two decades after the accident, Leonard prefers to see the farm not as the site of trauma, but rather the place where she has transformed into a world-class athlete.

“I like to turn negatives into positives,” Leonard said. “I think it’s really important to confront those things and to not let them define you.”