Let me take you back to 2010. In spite of the success of the GB team at the Beijing Olympics, exposure of women’s sport was still – let’s face it – practically non-existent, and a 16 year old Faye’s only decent experiences with sport had been a few fencing sessions, two seasons spent on the secondary school basketball team and a term playing compulsory hockey. Considering I had been in education for 11 years by this point, that’s a startlingly tiny proportion. So I think it’s safe to say that sport was not my forte, and I was well on my way to becoming an academic rather than an athlete.
Ok, admittedly, shooting isn’t your regular sport. It doesn’t require peak physical fitness, it doesn’t benefit from huge quantities of media coverage, and it can unfortunately be affected by severe negativity by those who aren’t particularly well educated in the true nature of the sport. So I can only really say that it was luck that got me into it.
That year I secured a part time job at a local shooting ground; being the obsessive pedant that I am, I figured that I should learn about gun safety in order to be most efficient at my role. From that first day with a gun in my hands, I was hooked! Thing is, you’d expect working at a shooting ground to be a benefit to a new shooter: sadly, it wasn’t. After all, you need to make money to spend money, and to be honest, putting myself through sixth-form, then university, required a significant amount of hours working and studying rather than shooting. It meant that for the first three or four years, I could only get out to shoot perhaps once or twice a month; but I persevered. Partly because I enjoyed it, partly because it was the only thing I could ever beat my father at!
Fast forward to seven years later, and a twenty-something Faye is about to embark on her newest shooting adventure; training for Olympic Skeet on the British Shooting Talent Pathway. I must admit, before November 2016, I was wondering why I ever started shooting at all. I felt that my early years shooting had been so dominated by my studies (which I don’t regret) that I had missed my chance to make something of myself athletically. Couple that with the significant lack of support and minimal role models for women in sport, and I think maybe I had been plagued with the idea that no matter how good I could be, it wouldn’t really be worth it.
But then, as I prepared to give up English Sporting after six and a half years, I looked back and realised what I had actually achieved. At the age of 19, I had secured a spot on the Kent Inter Counties English Sporting Team, and shot the South East Clubman Classic for the team from the ground I was working for. Six months later I had shot my way into B Class. Within another year and a half I had shot a personal best of 82/100 – which, for someone only shooting once or twice a month, was huge! At 23, I shot the Clubman Classic for a different ground (which said team won!) and earned a place on the Kent English Skeet team, followed shortly by the Olympic Trap team. In between all of these, I had won the Ladies class at local shoots regularly, including beating the AA class high gun at my closest shoot (64/70). So even though I was giving up sporting because I hadn’t been as successful as I had hoped, it had laid the foundations for what I was going into next.
As I anxiously await the arrival of my new Zoli Kronos fixed skeet barrel shotgun, which is being RFD’d to me this week, I sit here wondering what this year will bring and reflecting on how far women’s shooting has come. When I first started, there wasn’t even a Ladies’ class at my local ground. Now, there are so many of us involved with the sport and it is fabulous to see. But we still have a way to go.
I am going to share one experience I had, relatively recently, that made me realise just how far we still have to go. My work recreation club holds shoots a few times a year, and they are open to employees and their families, whether they have shot before or not. It is good-natured fun, and nobody minds who wins. One of these shoots, about a year or so ago, stands out to me. Of the 15 or so people there, only 4 or 5 of us were regular shooters, and so at the end, it came down to us in the top 5. I won the day, was presented with a little corporate shoot trophy, and we all said our goodbyes. As we walked to the car, we were behind one man and his son, a boy of maybe 11 or 12, and I overheard the boy say to his father something along the lines of ‘I got beaten by a girl’.
It was in that moment that I realised that being good at my sport wasn’t what mattered to this boy. It was the fact I was a woman. I wondered in that split second how the father would reply, and I knew (to my shame) that I would judge this man I barely knew (and may never see again) by his response. Thankfully, he did not disappoint, and said simply ‘We all got beaten by a girl’, which made me chuckle.
It infuriated me that my ability was being defined by my gender, and – more significantly – that young boys are still raised with the inherent concept that being beaten by a girl at a sport is a bad thing. Which it isn’t, by the way. So I decided that my two main aims over the next year are these: a) to grab my training by the horns and achieve as much as possible in my new discipline, and b) to become an inspiration for young girls, not just in shooting, but in sport in general. I sincerely hope that I can live up to my own expectations, and can entertain as well as inform. Shooting is a wonderful sport, and I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my sports career.