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No barriers too great

No barriers too great

Christine Naus was a pretty normal 26-year-old. She worked in administration at a university and practised karate in her spare time. She was “happily plodding along” when it came to her career and excelling at karate. She secured her black belt two years before, what she thought was, a simple foot injury led to a life-changing course of events.

“I was diagnosed with cancer in my foot in 2010,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to the type of cancer I had, the only treatment available to me was amputation of the leg below the knee. Once I got through rehab, I was issued with a prosthetic leg and had to learn to walk again using that.”

The cancer diagnosis and amputation had a profound effect on Christine, whose whole perspective on life changed. “Until that point I was just enjoying life, but not really living life,” she said. “I didn’t really have much motivation, drive and determination. But after cancer I took a step back and thought, ‘life is too short’. I actually started thinking about what I could involve myself in and get passionate about.”

While surfing the internet looking for potential sports to become involved in, Christine stumbled across the Paralympic Committee website. The website listed a heap of team sports, which didn’t interest Christine, and some solo sports. That’s when the idea of shooting came to her. It was years since she had tried target shooting with her close friend David’s firearms.

Christine and David have been friends for years, but their cancer battles brought them closer. “We had very different types and treatment but once I found out he had cancer I definitely reached out to him and our friendship has gotten a lot stronger because of our shared experience,” Christine said. David took Christine out for a shoot after her treatment and she once-again experienced the thrill of hitting a target. “He’s a very good helper. He helps me set up and gets things organised or me.”

After some time practising at the shooting range, Christine went hunting with David about four or five years ago. “When my prosthetic leg was still new, I was very cautious,” she said. “But as my confidence grew I got a bit more adventurous.” Out in the field Christine often surprises her hunting companions, and even herself, with what she is capable of doing.

“Recently I was out hunting deer with David and three other guys,” she said. “They were generous enough to take us to some private property in the High Country. There was a bit of rain and we had to cross a small river to get to the property. It was flowing too quickly and too deep at the time to walk through it, so the guys said the only way around was to walk across a concrete pipe over the river. It had wire handrails, but it was a bit hairy. I decided to have a go at getting across. In the end I made it unscathed but I think they were all surprised that I did it.”

People down at the shooting range would not even notice Christine’s prosthetic most of the time. In fact, Christine rarely notices it herself when she’s shooting targets. However, while out on the field, she sometimes needs extra help from her hunting friends.

“I find it impacts me the most out in the field hunting,” she said. “There have been quite a few times when I’ve taken a tumble and I blame the prosthetic. I do also need some help retrieving animals. I might do the butchery but I need people to carry the meat for me. Deer is the biggest issue because of the size.”

Christine and her friends spend time at farms, helping eradicate rabbits and foxes. Their trips have made substantial difference to some farmers, which has been very rewarding for Christine. “I feel like I’m making a difference,” she said. “We were once contacted by a farmer whose property we had been shooting on the year before. She told us that she had a huge increase in the number of lambs that survived because of the work we did. That gave us a good feeling.”

Christine encouraged other people who had disabilities to refuse to allow them to be a barrier. “It might be a challenge and you might have to find other ways to do certain things, but that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun,” she said. “Find your own way of doing things but don’t let it stop you from doing something you want to do.”

She also encouraged other people to take a step back when they saw people doing things differently from the way they would expect. “If you see somebody struggling or not doing something the way that you would do it, don’t assume they’re doing it wrong,” she said. “Maybe just ask yourself why they might be doing it differently. They might be compensating for something or may not physically be able to do it the way you would do it.”

The all-inclusive nature of the shooting sports is what attracts so many people from different walks of life. On any given day, people living with disabilities can practise on the main range or enter into competition on an even playing field with people without those disabilities. In some cases many other patrons would be oblivious to their unique challenges.