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Blind archer breaks records

A BLIND opera singer is breaking archery records after a rendezvous inside an 18th century cathedral.

Janelle Colquhoun, from Samford, was a teenage musical prodigy, earning a scholarship to study opera at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, before a number of years performing with the Australian Opera.

After that came a full-time contract with Opera Frankfurt in Germany.

Ms Colquhoun lost her vision at 29 following complications from Type 1 Diabetes, a condition she was diagnosed with as a child.

Her introduction to archery happened in a church.

"A few years ago I was actually over in Wales doing an arts leadership and mentorship course and they had 'archery in the nave' and I thought that just sounded so funny.

"I went down to this 18th century cathedral and I went up to the person taking it and I said 'can I shoot? I am blind, is that okay'?

"She said 'yes, I have trained lots of blind archers before'. She told me 'if you go back to Australia, this is how to find a club which you can register with and potentially shoot in the Paralympics'."

Today, with the help of funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Mrs Colquhoun now holds the Australian record for vision impaired archery in both indoor and outdoor competitions, and has her mind set on a world record.

She also recently won the national VI1 class with a score of 340.

She self-manages her NDIS plan and uses her flexible funding to hire support workers with a knowledge of archery to help her train.

 

Janelle Colquhoun is a blind opera singer who has gone on to become a record breaking archer. Photo: AAP/Regi Varghese
Janelle Colquhoun is a blind opera singer who has gone on to become a record breaking archer. Photo: AAP/Regi Varghese

 

 

It allows her to employ someone 3-4 times a week or spend an entire weekend at competitions.

"For the first time I was able to get someone to come help me with my archery. Until then I was relying on my husband when he had time, when he felt like it or when he wasn't at work," she said.

"My personal best increased from 149 to 301 since I have been getting NDIS assistance.

" … that's huge. That's due to having a regular assistant who can work with me a lot."

Two Samford Valley Target Archers (SVTA) members, Paul Fruhwirth and Shen Tribolet-Christensen, guide her.

Mr Fruhwirth is paid for by NDIS and Shen, a Samford Valley Steiner School student, does it as part of the school's community service program.

Mrs Colquhoun said they were "absolutely essential".

"If my assistant doesn't have me set up right I'm never going to hit that target," she said.

They are also crucial in spotting what she might be doing wrong.

 

Janelle Colquhoun with Paul Fruhwirth who is one of her assistants. AAP/Regi Varghese
Janelle Colquhoun with Paul Fruhwirth who is one of her assistants. AAP/Regi Varghese

 

How does it work? "My assistants stand down beside the target and rings a little bell and I aim for the bell," she joked.

"That's the way they shoot in Korea."

In reality, she touches the back of her left hand on a sight mounted on a tripod so her bow is aimed at the middle of the target.

During training, when she is aiming correctly her assistant tells her to release the arrow.

In competition, her assistant is not allowed to say anything apart from where the arrow has landed.

Mrs Colquhoun trains 3-4 times a week at SVTA.

"It's a great club for anyone interested in taking up archery with a disability, SVTA is very welcoming and totally supported me when I began," she said.

Mrs Colquhoun continues to sing opera professionally.

She also produces shows through Salubrious Productions, an entertainment and production agency she founded in 1999 that specialises in professional artists with disability.

To find out more about how the NDIS and a Local Area co-ordination Program can help, phone Carers Queensland on 3215 9600 or email brisbanenorthlac@carersqld.com.au.