Mel Clarke

 

Mel Clarke   World Champion Archer  Podcast Notes

Aged 11, Mel was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, an infection in her hip bone which meant she walked with crutches and used a wheelchair for any distance.

She started archery when she was 15  and was soon competing, representing her Club and County at International level.

In 2003 she says “I was actually the first disabled archer in Europe to represent Britain on an able bodied team.  Mel was practising in New York State for a major tournament in the World championships with the GB team when she felt unwell, her heart raced, she had a pain in her chest, she was dizzy and sweaty.  She collapsed and had multiple seizures, so she was rushed to hospital in New York.

She was in intensive care on a life support machine and a ventilator, in an induced coma for 3 weeks.  Her father was told she probably wouldn’t survive 24 hours so he flew to to America to be with her while Mel was tested and “pumped full of antibiotics.”  A spinal tap found the Lyme infection.  She was diagnosed with tick borne encephalitis.

Mel says if she’d been in the UK she probably wouldn’t have survived because at least in America they knew what it was and what to look for”.

She awoke, blind and paralysed from the waist down.  There was a lot of swelling in her brain and spinal cord which caused the damage.  Her Dad had to tell her she wouldn’t be able to walk again or fire another arrow. In hospital she couldn’t feed herself or anything, her speech was badly affected and she couldn’t move so she says “it was very scary”.  

 

Mel was eventually flown home to the UK with a medical surgeon and greeted by a chief neurologist who said “What’s all this Lyme Disease then?  Which didn’t fill me with confidence.”  She was transferred to a local hospital where she spent another 5 weeks being rehabilitated.  She regained the sight in her left eye but her right eye couldn’t process the image her brain registers.

She had many challenges because of her sight and paralysis.  Just learning to steer the wheelchair down a corridor and not crash going through door ways had to be learnt.

After a month Mel’s mother thought she wasn’t progressing effectively so they decided to take her home where she did a lot of external rehab’ and people came to the house to treat her.  After 5 months Mel was able to get into a chair on her own and felt confident enough to go out in her wheelchair.  It took a good year to “get my head around everything which was another big issue.

Mel explains that she was told because of her disability she probably wouldn’t be able to compete again. And how her coach gave her a bow to practise on and people from America sent her equipment to try with her left hand and right hand.  She “worked and worked and worked’.”

2 years after the day she collapsed she competed in the Disabled World Championships in Italy, “where I actually became World Champion, so it was a massive achievement.”  She then went on to win a silver medal at the Paralympics in London in 2012 and a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Mel says that was probably bitten in Thetford Forest, Norfolk by a tiny tick which had caused the Lyme encephalitis.  Her story is one of courage and determination, overcoming physical challenges to win again.  Now retired she says that “life is better than I could ever have wished.”

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