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Matthew Gleaves reports on the inaugural AirAbility Live event, which has been a huge success story and which showcased the incredible inclusivity of air rifle shooting as a sport.
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I've always been interested when I see people in roadside hotels gathering for breakfast dressed in tracksuits and team T-shirts, travelling to events. I wonder what they'll be doing this weekend. I think it's amazing how like-minded people get together to pursue a common interest, and this time it was the AirAbility posse coming together to compete and build friendships. We came far and wide, from the land of the Prince Bishops to the realm of the Dover Shark, and assembled in Glevensium for AirAbility Live.
As you may already know, AirAbility started about 20 months ago when a group of friends and I initiated a Facebook group and YouTube channel with the intention to promote inclusivity in the sport of airgunning. AirAbility is a daily part of many of our lives and has brought like-minded people together from all walks of life. Now with nearly 700 members, it was time for AirAbility to burst free from social media and hold its first live event. With a little (lot of) planning, the date was set and the 10th and 11th September 2022 would see as many of us as possible competing at the Glevum Target and Sports Club in Gloucestershire.
Once AirAbility decided to break out into the real world, the airgun community leapt forward to help. We had everything from a free venue for the event and organisational assistance, to some great donated giveaways and prizes. Everyone who came received a goodie bag of airgun-related treats, including T-shirts and hats, as well as some awesome competition prizes.
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The weekend was split into three main activities:
The biggest part of the weekend for me was hanging with our AirAbility friends! From the guys in their 20s, who are the future of the sport, to the legend that is the former World Champion/World Record holder, Ron Harding, in his 90s. We even had a full AirAbility family come along, and Adam Newell and his wife and daughter, Vanessa and Zoe, had a great time. Conversation flowed freely in between competitions, lubricated by sausage rolls, steak bites and coffee. This highlighted the diverse and engaging benchrest community, who shared plenty of stories and quality advice. I think we left the rookies in good hands.
We were looking for an airgun sport that a wide range of people could enjoy and benchrest is a static sport, so shooters are not running round in the mud and up and down hills. It attracts people of all ages, genders and physical abilities.
Benchrest is made even more accessible because it’s a seated sport, and the rifle weight is supported by the bench and the rest. As a wheelchair user, this was what first attracted me to benchrest. I never believed I’d be competitive, and a double-event winner within 12 months!
Also, the event is shot outdoors over a distance of 25 metres, so it can be extremely challenging battling the wind and atmospherics to hit very small targets with 2mm bulls.
Trust me, there has never been a maximum score at a world-ranking event, and it is one of the hardest disciplines to master. The difference between having a frustrating day, or being a winner, can be the smallest fraction of a millimetre. Remember, as long as you can sit still and hold a rifle when rested on a bench and back bag, you have a chance!
For more information on benchrest shooting go to: www.benchrestuk.com
The venue was an obvious choice because it allowed a wide range of shooting facilities, both indoors and out. It also had easy, level access from the disabled parking to both ranges, club room and toilets. If you live in the area and want to know more about the club go to: www.glevumtsc.co.uk
With no perceivable talent and a lot of deluded self-confidence, I was given the opportunity to break free from doing my AirAbility videos in the shed when I guest-presented a video about the weekend for the YouTube channel, Shooting and Country TV. This was an eye-opening experience, and Ollie, the camera guy, had the patience of a saint. Make sure you check out the video and meet the characters who made the weekend so special.
We do need to remember that some serious world-class shooting went on. Jerry May won both Pro event competitions, with world-class scores, proving he really is one of the top benchrest shooters in the UK. He was closely followed by double silver trophy winner, Mike Tucker, and bringing up the rostrum rear, Graeme Spencer and I took the bronze on days one and two. Surely, this performance must have gone a long way to secure Jerry's place on Team GB at the World Championships in 2023!
Sue Morris, first-timer shooting outside, and late entry, proved to be the star of the weekend. She won both rookie competitions, and on some cards she beat established pro benchrest shooters. Sue went home with two gold trophies and a new set of wind flags. She clearly made the best of the weekend and is now set to be a tour regular, having booked in for the next event. Sue is also planning some serious financial investment in some new benchrest gear. Everyone left the weekend with something. Some of us left with trophies, but all of us left with new friends and a few goodies. The real winner, though, is the ever-growing and inclusive airgun community.
I left the venue on the Sunday evening with people asking me what we are going to do next year. I am hoping to include more airgun disciplines and make the event as diverse as the participants, so if you feel you would like to get involved, and be a partner at whatever level next year, please feel free to join the Facebook group. Until next year, guys - keep living the airgun dream and remember to subscribe to the AirAbility YouTube channel and join our Facebook group.
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