Danielle Brown MBE
- Written by Catherine Rees
Danielle Brown MBE is a double Paralympic gold medallist in archery, five time World Champion and a former world number one in her sport. She has also won medals shooting in the able bodied category when she successfully transitioned over into the able bodied team.
In November 2013, Danielle’s world came crashing down when a new classification process deemed her ‘not disabled enough’ to continue competing in para-archery events. Almost overnight, all that she had worked for had come to an abrupt end.
“I took up archery on my fifteenth birthday as it was a sport I could actually do with my disability and just three years later I made the Great Britain para-archery team. My confidence and my career soared. I became world number one and maintained that title for all the eight years of my career.
“In 2013 I was training intensely for the Rio Paralympics and getting ready to compete in the World Championships, however a new classification process for all athletes was introduced and I failed. I was told I wasn’t disabled enough and wouldn’t be able to complete.
“Hearing that news was by far the hardest single experience of my life. I’d given so much to sport and was faced with the impossible question of “what do I do now?” At the time it was the end of the world, I couldn’t see how things could get better.
“I can remember my physio saying: “with a CV like yours I can’t imagine you’d have any trouble getting a job”. But to me, what I had was more than just an amazing career: it was an honour and a privilege to represent my country. To go from that to nothing was really tough, and at the time I couldn’t see a way out. I was left stranded, not knowing what to do next.
“I decided to appeal the decision. It has taken me five years to get a medical diagnosis, so I didn’t feel like my condition was really understood. The BAC were a fantastic support with this. My national governing body also provided some support – they offered me a session with the psychologist, however this support was infrequent and the idea of going back to the national training centre was too emotional – I just couldn’t bring myself to go there.
“I knew I had to find a way to pay my mortgage and bills but didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d got a law degree whilst training but knew I didn’t want to go into law. With the help from my supportive family, I decided to set up a speaking and training business to help and inspire others, specialising in under-represented groups.
“The skills I’ve learnt through sport have definitely helped me carve out a career doing what I love. When I started archery, my confidence and self esteem was at rock bottom but sport gave me my confidence back. I always say that it provides a blueprint for success and has taught me essential skills including goal setting, perseverance, dedication, and leadership.
“I’ve accessed Switch The Play workshops which have been great for bouncing ideas around. It’s good that the charity is led by athletes as they understand things from an athlete’s perspective and it has helped me work through specific challenges.
“The idea of retirement definitely needs to be communicated better in sports. I can remember a couple of people mentioning it, but at the time I was training for the London Paralympics and it was something I didn’t think I needed. Sporting bodies need to encourage people to focus on a dual career because you can actually stay in sport longer if you have this.
“It’s so important for sports people to prepare themselves for the future, but it’s also important to recognise that you’re not alone if this ever happens to you. You too can copy and paste what you’ve learnt from sport and apply it successfully to another career. I definitely still get that same adrenaline rush from speaking at events.”
Danielle Brown MBE is a keynote speaker and published author.