Setting a new world record is an incredible feat for any sportsperson, and it’s often seen as the pinnacle of their career. So, imagine the feeling when SportsAid athlete Jessica Stretton did just that at the age of 15 when competing in the Fazza International Para Archery Championship in Dubai last week!
Jessica, who received her SportsAid Award from BrightHouse, broke the women's record after scoring a total of 649 points during the qualification stages of the W1 open compound event - a 72-arrow round at 50 metres. Her score is one more than the previous record held by fellow Briton and reigning world champion Joanna Frith.
“It felt amazing when I realised I had broken the world record,” said Jessica. “It was one of my aspirations as an archer - that and winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. I just shot my best but did not expect to break the world record.
“All my team-mates are really proud of me. It makes me believe that I can be a top competitor for my country for many years to come. I was most pleased about my performance because I felt that I did really well even when the odds were not stacked in my favour.”
Jessica, having won her qualifier in style, progressed to the final, and the decision was taken to combine women and men as there was only a total of seven archers in the entire category. This meant Jessica would face highly experienced Czech opponent David Drahoninsky.
Drahoninsky, who had set the men's world record during the qualification stages, won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Drahoninsky, 34, reserved special praise for Jessica, calling her a ‘great archer’ after he went on to win the final shootout and take the title in Dubai.
“It was an amazing experience to be able to shoot against David,” said Jessica. “I only hope that I can one day be as good as him. It was disappointing not to win, but you are going to have your ups and your downs. You just have to learn how to deal with each match as it comes and move onto the next one.”
Jessica, who won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Para Archery Championships in Germany, returned to her studies at Longdean School in Hemel Hempstead where the world record holder received a warm reception with a special mention in assembly when she got back to England.
Jessica now hopes her performance in Dubai will ‘improve’ her chances of competing at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. She says SportsAid’s support, as well as that of her family, has been crucial in helping her cover equipment costs and giving her an extra boost during the early stages of her sporting career.
“SportsAid helped me buy my equipment,” said Jessica. “They helped start my career and put me on the right path, as well as easing the financial struggle I would have had. Receiving support from SportsAid gives me more motivation as I know people believe in my ability and that I am a good archer.
“My family is imperative to supporting me, without them I don’t think I would have got this far in my career. The most influential person I would say is my twin, as without her, I would probably not have the motivation to compete and make her proud.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Jessica can continue receiving the support they rely on. To donate, please text ‘NEXT01 £5’, ‘NEXT01 £10’ or as much as you can give to 70070.