The Australian father-daughter duo pursuing blind archery dream
ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT is presented by WIAWIS.
Craig Newbery describes the visually impaired archery community as a ‘family’. But it is a partnership with his own daughter, Jacqui Green, which helped him break new ground at the 2023 World Archery Para Championships.
Newbery took home silver from Pilsen last month, the best result by an Australian visually impaired archer in the event’s history.
The 58-year-old, who had previously trialled twice for his country’s Commonwealth Games lawn bowls team, only took up archery seven years ago when he and daughter Jacqui, 41, attended an introductory event in their home city of Canberra.
Progress has been rapid since and, with Jacqui acting as spotter, Craig has made his mark on the world stage while savouring every moment of sharing the journey with those closest to him.
“It makes me get all teary if I talk about it too much,” Craig says. “It’s very special to me.”
“You have to be able to work closely with your spotter and we are a great team.”
Visually impaired archers use a tactile sight – a tripod-mounted pin that they push into the back of their hand – to aim, while an assistant ‘spotter’ communicates the result of each shot when it lands in the target.
“The communication is good [with Jacqui], as is the level of trust and reliance – if either of us makes a mistake, it’s not the end of the world and we keep battling on,” he says.
“That’s what is most important. Even though I’m doing the shooting, I rely heavily on [her] and I know what she is telling me is to achieve the best outcome for us.”
Jacqui enjoyed a promising archery career of her own, earning bronze at Sydney’s Indoor Archery Festival in 2020 before hanging up her bow to focus on assisting her father.
“To be able to take dad somewhere that is fulfilling his passion and be there with him when he’s awarded medals, it’s a pretty special bond and I feel like I’m representing the family,” she says.
As a spotter, Jacqui makes sure her dad’s equipment is aligned at the shooting line and during scoring, calls arrows and keeps an eye on the clock.
“He does all the aiming and shooting and I give him feedback on what I’ve observed after the shoot, then we make adjustments,” she explains. “And I offer a bit of moral support as well!”
Craig was beaten in a shoot-off for bronze at the 2022 World Archery Para Championships in Dubai, which only served to increase his desire to end on the podium in Pilsen.
Knocking out reigning champion Vanhollebeke – who he describes as ‘one of the visually impaired heroes’ – in the semifinals ensured he would do just that and though he lost out in the gold medal match against Matteo Panariello, the Australian has taken plenty of confidence from his performance.
“It was awesome to shoot against Ruben,” he says. “We had done qualifying together in the past but I’d not shot in a match against him.”
“Because everything was working quite well at that moment in time, I was able to keep up with him and the one arrow shoot-off was very exciting. I really enjoyed it.”
Visually impaired archery is a close community where chats are going on all the time on communication supports keeping each other up to date with what’s going on around the world.
“New records get posted and celebrated and it’s like having another archery family,” Newbery explains.
Craig’s success made up part of a successful competition for Australia, which won as many medals in 2022 – three – as it had in every previous World Championships combined, with Christopher Davis becoming his country’s first para world champion.
“There is a great spirit in the Aussie squad,” Jacqui says. “Whenever anyone is on the line, we’re there backing them up and giving them a cheer.”
“The squad is growing and we’re coming together with the rest of the para squad, they are family as well. It is a really inclusive space for all the Aussies.”
Both Craig and Jacqui hope visually impaired archery will earn Paralympic classification in the future but for now, both will continue to do what they can to promote a sport they have fallen in love with in recent years.
Craig, in particular, has found it a reassuring change from lawn bowls.
“The metrics of a good performance are easier to figure out in archery and the other beauty of it is you’re competing against yourself, your own personal bests, whatever you want to achieve,” he says.
“I loved archery as soon as I tried it and I don’t want it to turn into a chore. It needs to stay enjoyable.”