On target to be the best in spite of diabetes

Jessie and Lewis Slater, champion archers at the Nova Bowmen, Scholes.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Jessie and Lewis Slater, champion archers at the Nova Bowmen, Scholes. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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Brother and sister archers Lewis and Jessie Slater are aiming for the Olympics. But Jessie faces another challenge. Catherine Scott reports.

Brother and sister archers Lewis and Jessie Slater are aiming for the Olympics. But Jessie faces another challenge. Catherine Scott reports.

For three hours a day five days a week shooting 1,000 arrows each, teenagers Jessie and Lewis Slater train in a bid to become two of the best archers in the world.

The hard work and commitment is already paying off for the brother and sister from Scholes as they have both been chosen to shoot with the GB Archery Academy.

Jessie, 16, has her sights firmly set on representing her country at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 and her younger brother Lewis, 13, hopes to follow in her footsteps four years later.

While both clearly have the talent, hard work is needed to build up their strength, both physical and mental, to compete again the top archers in the world.

For Jessie, bidding to become an elite athlete is even more of a challenge than for most people.

When she was nine Jessie was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes.

Despite dealing with her illness well over the last seven years, she still struggled to talk about it.

“It has been quite hard for her,” says dad Simon. “She’s always been a very active girl, playng loads of sport, but in 2006 she was playing football and she started to drop off and not feel very well. Eventually she ended up in hospital where they tested her for high blood sugar levels and confirmed she was suffering from type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes. It is also sometimes known as juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes because it often develops before the age of 40, usually during the teenage years.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas (a small gland behind the stomach) does not produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. If the amount of glucose in the blood is too high, it can seriously damage the body’s organs.

“Even though she was only nine she did all the insulin injections herself – four a day. she has coped extremely well,” explains Simon.

Jessie now has an insulin pump which regulates her blood sugar levels for her, reducing the need for constant testing and giving her more control over her condition

But this carries its own problems. During an archery competition last year the cannula that administers the insulin into her leg got trapped by her belt, which affected her blood sugar levels.

“When her levels are wrong it can affect her concentration and energy levels. One of the main things you need in archery is a steady arm and that can be affected,” explains Simon.

Exercise, especially the intensive strength and conditioning exercises that Jessie and Lewis have to undergo can also affect the way her body processes the insulin.

Ironically all the things Jessie loves about archery are the things which can affect her blood sugar levels.

“Lots of things can affect it such as adrenalin, emotion, exercise, pressure, all of which I have to deal with when shooting,” she explains. But Jessie is determined not to let her condition rule her life.

“I resolved to not let the T1 take control of my life, but to make sure that I was in control, and it would not stop me from doing anything that I wanted to, especially with regards to sport.

“Having type 1 diabetes can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to hinder your routine. You can stay fit, continue with your favourite sport and not let it stop you doing anything. I firmly believe that if you’re determined you can control type 1 diabetes without letting it control you.”

As if training five days a week isn’t enough, Jessie is also doing her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and studying Sport and Exercise Science at College in Huddersfield.

But she says she doesn’t find all the training and repetitive shooting of arrows to build up her strength a chore.

“Both Lewis and I really love it,” says Jessie. “I know it is what I have to do if I want to represent my country in the Olympics.”

The Slaters got into archery pretty much by accident.

Keen roller hockey players, they were at a fund-raising event and the Scholes-based Nova Bowmen had a stand.

“The whole family had a go and we signed up there and then to do the training course,” explains Jessie, who was just 12 at the time.

“In August 2013, after 18 months of hard work and training, I was selected to attend the Archery GB Northern Performance Academy, together with 11 other athletes from the North of England – including my brother Lewis.

“The aim of the Academy is to develop junior archers into medal winning competitors on the world stage, with the ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.”

The Academy, which is based near Hull, sees young hopefuls attend monthly weekend training camps where they are coached by the top national coaches.

In October, Archery GB recommended Jess for a TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) nomination.

But it isn’t just dedication which will see her make it to the top. Her parents have been a major support to her both emotionally and financially.

Simon estimates it costs around £4,000 a year for equipment and travel to competition and training 
and now with Lewis hot on 
his sister’s heels that is set to double.

“I am so grateful to my mum and dad for all their support,” says Jessie. Both archers are looking for sponsorship to help make their dreams become a reality.

For more information visit www.jessieslaterarchery.co.uk or www.lewisslaterarchery.co.uk