Issy Bailey’s journey to the Paralympics all started with an Estonian pistol enthusiast called Vlad.
The Cirencester star is bidding for her third Paralympic Games, a decade after a car accident left her with a damaged spine, broken back, liver and ribs.
Having lost the use of her legs and left hand, the Exeter University graduate tested out a range of sports, before a chance meeting with Vladimir Filimonov set her on the path to international disability pistol shooting.
While Bailey has scant recollection of the months that followed the fateful incident in 2013, the former lacrosse player’s recovery at Stoke Mandeville opened her mind to a new world of disability sport.
Bailey said: “I don’t have reliable memories of maybe a year after the injury. It was like it was happening and I was watching it. It’s difficult to describe.
“I think the fact that whilst I was in rehab I was introduced to sport so quickly, it took my focus away from what had happened to me and what the consequences of my injuries were.
“I had an outlet, so in a way sport probably helped me sidestep dealing with very difficult realities. I was surrounded by some pretty good people right from the start.”
One of them was national pistol coach Filimonov, who thrust a gun into a bewildered Bailey’s hand at their first meeting.
And while Bailey admits she was far from a natural, Filimonov was convinced the 20-year-old had talent.
Bailey said: “I had no idea what I was doing. I’d been in rehab for about five months so I was the weakest, the smallest, the most ill I’ve ever been in my life.
“I didn’t really have any concept of what was going on. I was learning how to dress myself again, how to live independently again, so the idea of competitive sport was not on my radar at all.
“When I picked up the gun, I just thought I was going to do it for fun while I was in rehab, and Vlad encouraged me to take it more seriously.
“I didn’t go in there thinking, you know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to be a Paralympian. Vlad put me on that path before I’d even realised.
“Vlad’s such a character. Even though English was his second language, we developed a really good relationship. He taught me everything I know about shooting and we’re still in touch.”
Bailey is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing her to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for her pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.
With the Paris 2024 Paralympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Bailey hopes that by sharing her story it will give others motivation to get involved into sport.
A persistent shoulder injury kept Bailey from shooting at her best in Tokyo two years ago, but the Paralympian has come to realise that results are secondary when it comes to her evaluation of success.
Bailey said: “Over the last decade, I think probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is to set my goals based on what I want to achieve, rather than what other people want to achieve.
“I was working and striving towards someone else’s vision of what I should be doing and achieving and actually that wasn’t how I found fulfilment.
“Honestly, I’m just looking to qualify for Paris and go out there and enjoy it, enjoy being a Paralympian again.
“Hopefully I’ll have another good games and then I’ll see where it takes me after that.”
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