Published twice a year, WLV Life is packed full of the latest University and alumni news and events, keeping you up-to-date with all the goings-on within your alumni community.
Each issue features engaging stories on different themes and we catch up with alumni old and new to find out what they have been up to since leaving the University.
Danielle Brown MBE is a double Paralympic Gold medallist and three times World Champion in Archery.
As a teenager she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a condition that changed her life forever. No longer able to take part in all the sports she loved, she found a lifeline after joining a local archery club. Within three years she was representing her country – and from there began her seven year journey dominating the field across the world. Now an Honorary Graduate of the University, we took the opportunity to hear Danielle’s inspirational story of strength, determination and courage.
Q. Congratulations on your recent Honorary Degree. Did you enjoy your day?
“Yes, it was amazing thank you. It was so unexpected and a real honour to be recognised by an institution that is passionate about helping people progress.”
Q. You’ve overcome a great deal of adversity in your life from a young age. Have you always had such strength of mind and character?
“I think you never know how strong you truly are until you face something. I owe a lot to my family as I grew up in a very supportive environment and already had a determined mentality. My mantra since I was a child has always been “there’s no such thing as can’t” so when I was diagnosed I instinctively told myself that I just have to find a way around it.”
Q. At the height of your career, how did it feel to know you were best in the world at your sport?
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It feels rewarding and of course winning medals is an unforgettable experience, but when you are the best in the world it means you can never rest on your laurels. Staying at the top is harder than getting there, and you have to constantly find ways to improve yourself so that no-one knocks you off. The pressure is definitely worth it though.”
Q.So did you worry about your opponents and who might be the one to beat you?
“No, because to be the best it’s always important to keep looking forward and pushing for new goals. If you’re focussed on your opponents then you’re not focussing fully on your own game – especially with individual sports like archery.”
Q. What was it about archery that attracted you to it when you were 15 years old?
“I grew up playing lots of sports and I wanted to carry on with one, but my disability meant most were no longer an option and the majority of information around Paralympic sports was telling me what I couldn’t do instead of what I now could. In the end I had a choice between archery and swimming – but I figured playing with arrows would be much more fun!”
Q. You became so good you joined the able-bodied GB squad at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, winning gold. Was it always your aim to not be defined by a disability and strive beyond it?
“I don’t really consider myself as having a disability and I’m always being told off for doing too much – in fact an able bodied person wouldn’t willingly do some of the things I do! I think because I have been decreed as having a disability, I tell myself I need to over achieve and go that one step further. If you allow yourself to mentally take on board a label like that then you give yourself unnecessary, and often non-existent, restrictions and limitations. You risk behaving with that expectation and it almost becomes a self-fulling prophecy.”
Q. Your diagnosis meant your entire life changed overnight. Was your sport training as much about overcoming mental barriers as well as physical barriers?
“Being an elite athlete is a lifestyle – you can’t just pick and choose. It dictates what you eat, when you eat, when you socialise. You live the sport and eventually it becomes engrained in you. It can be mentally tough at times, and I remember in particular when I was training for the London Olympic Games that I hardly got to see my family because the journey would’ve been too tiring and I’d risk affecting my performance.”
Q. You were awarded an MBE in the Queen’s 2013 New Year Honours. What was going through your head when you received your award?
“I was so nervous – not because I was going to be in front of Prince Charles – but because I had to do two curtseys.
My family were taking bets on whether I would fall over! I was given the option of bowing instead, but that would’ve meant me saying “I can’t curtsey” and there is no such thing as can’t. It was exciting to shake hands with royalty, but I’ve also attended the Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace and that was a fantastic experience.”
Q. Your sporting career was cut short in 2013 when it was deemed your disability no longer qualified you to compete at Paralympic events. Was there more you wanted to achieve if you had been given the opportunity?
“I was training for Rio when I got the news and it was a very hard time for me. My identity was tied to my sporting career and I’d been dedicated to a strict programme for nearly a decade and then suddenly it all just stopped. It took me a while to adjust, but now that I can look back, I feel like I achieved what I wanted to achieve, and I’m proud of the career I had.”
Q. You now dedicate yourself to motivational speaking to inspire and encourage others. Do you feel this was the natural career change for you given your own personal experiences?
“Yes I suppose it was. When I was thrown off the programme I did a lot of soul searching and realised that there was a real lack of support for athletes who needed to build their mental resilience. Some were really good at it, but others weren’t and it would affect their performance irrespective of how good their skill level was. When I was competing I taught myself how to cope and I wanted to help others learn to cope as well.”
Q. So what does a typical day look like for you now?
“Every day is so varied for me. I am asked to speak to so many different types of audiences who all have different life experiences. It’s not just people from the sporting world either – it could be anything creating a restriction or limitation for them that they need greater mental strength to overcome. I get messages from people saying how much I have helped their confidence and self-belief and I find that incredibly rewarding knowing I’m helping other people to strive to get the most out of their lives.”
Q. What’s next for you then?
“I’ve just finished writing my first book which I’m hoping to get published. I’ve always wanted to be an author and thoroughly enjoyed sitting down and sharing my experiences on paper. It was actually very therapeutic and helped me to adjust to no longer being a professional athlete.”
Q. You’re clearly passionate about wanting to help others who may be facing adversity. If you could give someone just one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Get yourself a purpose that you are passionate about. You have to be prepared to work as there are no shortcuts, and putting 100% dedication into something is always easier when you love what you do. It’ll also help you cope with the challenges and curve balls that will inevitably come your way, thanks to this wonderful thing called life.”