TRAINING FOR THE SMALL ISLAND GAMES | Darrin Henry
Instead of a Saturday morning lie in, a small, dedicated group of five youngsters are up early training in St Helena’s national sport of shooting, trying to hit a one centimetre bullseye, 50 metres away.
They are not aided by telescopic sights. There are no bipods to stabilise the 6kg rifles over the 60 shots. There is a breeze; dust is in the air and plenty of glare on this bright summer’s day.
This is the tough side of sport, the hard slog, essential for any hope of success. There is no glamour or social attraction to being here; no phones, no facebook, no music – just quiet determination.
The shooters have been training up to three times a week for the last four months, hoping to make selection for the Small Island Games, taking place this year on the Channel Island of Jersey. The Games are held every two years.
For nearly 3 decades shooters from St Helena have been internationally handicapped by inadequate local facilities, most notably training on a 25 yard range when the actual competition is shot at 50 metres.
Pat Henry runs the Jamestown Rifle Club and over the last two or three years has volunteered much of his time training youth shooters. When three of the club’s youngsters were selected in early 2014 for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, Pat decided experience of shooting at 50m was crucial before leaving the island.
The St Helena National Trust allowed a temporary training range to be set up inside High Knoll fort, an area closed to the general public since part of the outer walls collapsed a few years ago. The Trust continues to lend their support ahead of Jersey 2015.
Madolyn (20) and her brother Jordie Andrews (16) both have the experience of Glasgow 2014 under their belts. Madolyn, a Teller at Bank of St Helena, is now training to compete in the 3P (three position) discipline and highlights ammunition quality as a problem. “On St Helena we don’t have much choice of ammo and sometimes it’s faulty.”
Jordie has been working as a mechanic for the last six months; he’s been shooting for over three years. “It’s a good sport, it relaxes you, but it’s also a good hobby.”
Retrieving her first set of targets to be checked, Jodie Constantine (16) scans the all important puncture holes. “Could be better,” she smiles, before the target is scored. She does better on the second round. Jodie is a student at Prince Andrew School. She began shooting in August 2013 and is working hard to be selected for Jersey. “Oh my God, I would be over the moon, [if selected] I would be so happy.”
Chelsea Benjamin (16) is the third Glasgow ‘veteran.’ She works at a crèche and says shooting is “very relaxing and therapeutic.” For Chelsea, the wind factor is a big challenge on the range. “Sometimes it can be calm at the platform but windy at the target, so you have to be patient.”
Kayleigh Harris (17) is the “newbie” of the bunch; she’s been shooting for “just over a year.” Kayleigh, an apprentice with the St Helena National Trust, is also training in 3P. “I find getting used to the different positions can be difficult, sometimes,” she tells me.
When Simon Henry and Carlos Yon won gold and silver medals at the last Island Games in Bermuda 2013, it was a welcome boost for a sport that often lives in the shadows of football and cricket. St Helena also benefitted from the international exposure this success attracted.
I’ve tried shooting a few times myself and while it’s not for me, (it’s much harder than it looks) I have absolute respect for these youngsters’ dedication, and more importantly, their ability. Examining the targets after the sessions I am stunned by their accuracy; the one centimetre bullseyes are peppered with bullet holes.
Shooting equipment and kit are expensive and training conditions aren’t ideal. A new rifle starts at approximately £1,900; both Chelsea and Madolyn have bought their own. Jodie has been loaned a rifle and the other two belong to NASAS. Ammunition is a recurring cost, borne by each shooter, with an average of 130 shots per week costing £26, well over £1,000 a year. It’s a hefty outlay, both in financial expense and time; an unusual but positive case of youth investing in both themselves and their island’s prospects. No doubt the five will be hoping this commitment brings rewards.
Anxious eyes will be on the selectors when the team is announced shortly for Jersey 2015.