With one year to go until the start of the 2024 Paris Paralympics, archer Jonathon ‘Jono’ Milne has made a pledge as he prepares to compete in his third Games.
“My pledge is I’ll do my best to put in the work and bring home the medals,” said the 37 year old New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship athlete who won a bronze medal at the recent World Para Archey Championships held in the Czech Republic.
Milne, who is described by NSWIS Senior Coordinator (Archery) Mark Wilson as ‘a positive force at the best of times’, said fulfilling his pledge will mean firing 1000 arrows each week at a bullseye that’s the size of the bottom of a schooner glass from 50 very long metres away.
“Before Tokyo in 2020, I think I put in over 45,000 in a year,” he said. “So, I don’t know if I’ll get close to that this time, just because I don’t have the same facilities as then. But you’re probably averaging a thousand a week.”
Milne, who won a Paralympic bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games, said even though he’d qualified for Paris it still seemed ‘surreal’ he’d be a member of the Australian Team.
“This will be my third Paralympics,” he said proudly. “I’ve been to two previously, and the fact I’m going to a third one now, well, it still takes a little while to sink in.
“It doesn’t really hit until you’ve got your qualification spot and it’s been awarded to you, and you’re handed your ticket from whoever it is that’s going to present it to you.
“That’s when it really starts to hit home. Up until that stage, it’s just day in, day out, focusing on trying to improve your scores and consistencies; just keep working so that you got the best chance when you get over there if bringing home a medal.”
And NSWIS scholarship athletes have a rich tradition of performing at the Games since the Institute’s doors opened in 1996. Indeed, it’s athletes left an indelible mark on the 2020  Tokyo Games with 44 NSWIS athletes:
- Representing Australia across 13 sports
- Making up 24.6% of the Australian Paralympic Team (the most by any state)
- Winning 21 medals, including four gold
- Contributing to 26.2% of the nation’s medals
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Just like Milne, the likes of wheelchair racer Madison de Rozario, who won gold for the 800m T53 and Marathon T54 at Tokyo; World 200m T36 Para Athletics silver medallist Mali Lovell; cyclist Gordon Allan, who’s most recent success was a bronze medal in the c2 Time Trial World Track Cycling Championships at Glasgow; World Champion swimmer Timothy Hodge, and World Champion Para canoeist Dylan Littlehales, will be focussing their energies on lighting Paris up.
And while Milne has immersed himself in his Paralympic dream, he concedes had it not been for the accident during a day at the beach in 2012 which rendered him a quadriplegic it’s most likely he’d have never discovered the joys of archery.
“I picked up archery after my accident because I spent about six months in rehab,” he said. “I needed something to get me out and allow me to forget about what was going on and to get some normality back into things.
“When I started, I was in rehab, and I never contemplated I’d even do competition because it was just something to do. But it’s incredible to think three years after picking up a bow I managed to win a bronze medal at the [2016 Rio] Paralympics.
“I still have to think about [the incredibility of that achievement] from time to time because it’s something I never imagined myself doing – or being able to do, for that matter.
Milne also concedes his prowess has been enhanced by being a member of the NSWIS archery program, which is the only Institute that supports both Para and able bodied archers. Indeed, National Para Coach, Ricci Cheah, described it as the benchmark.
“The support (the athletes) get from NSWIS, is exemplary,” said Cheah. “The other states are starting to get behind the sport, but NSWIS is the leader. It helps that they have a training environment that is close to the gym and that everything is centralised.”
Milne, who stands at a towering 6ft 8 inches in the old Imperial measurements, said his life changed forever the day he went to the beach and dove under a wave.
“It was just the whole thing of different circumstances and how they lined up,” he said. “I surfed for 12 years and was thrown over rocks, sandbars, reefs . . . everything. I’ve almost been knocked out in the surf, and I’ve hit sandbars quite hard. But on that particular day it was the angle and the things lined up [im]perfectly.
“I popped out of the water and took a breath, but when I went to stand up my legs didn’t move. I felt everything, but I didn’t think it was that hard an impact. It was enough to clip my chin down, but that was it.
“I said to my wife that I’d done something to my neck. I was just floating and fortunately the lifeguards saw what happened and they carried me straight out. I was so lucky; they should’ve been off the beach because it was 6pm at night.”
Despite the trauma, Milne conceded he was more fortunate than others, and even credited the injury for opening a wonderful world to him.
“Looking back, I don’t think I’d change anything so far. I’ve had doors opened that I never thought I would,” he said.
And he has vowed that when he’s wearing the green and gold in the City of Lights next year, his mind won’t be on Paris’s renowned tourist sites or its cuisine.
“I’ve been there a few times before, and I’ve never really gone places to, like, look at things,” he said. “I like going places to experience things and like doing things . . . so, the fact I get to go there and compete in a sport that I love, and for Australia, is the biggest thing for me.
Milne said he hopes his and the archery team’s performances in a sport which is believed to stretch back 70,000 years will encourage others to try their hand at it.
“I’ll get a few more people behind me that haven’t seen what we do and might inspire a few more people to get out and try,” he said. “It doesn’t get a lot of time in the limelight, and it’s not one of the big mainstream Para sports – but it’s gaining traction from when I first started.
“There was maybe me and one or two other people that just did it for a bit of fun. And now we’ve got sort of high performing athletes in almost every state in Australia, and it’s quite a good Para archery program going now.
“We just took the biggest team of athletes to the world champs that we’ve had since I started. So yeah, it’s gaining a bit of popularity and that’s exciting.”
Daniel Lane, NSWIS