Over the next 100 days leading into the opening ceremony of the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games, archer JonathonJono’ Milne will shoot 11,200 arrows at training as he fixes his sights on adding to the bronze medal he won at the Rio Games eight years ago.

While the 38-year-old’s 800 shots per week is nowhere near as great a volume as when he was shooting 1400 a week, Milne is focussed on quality over quantity, an approach he is able to adopt – even with the clock ticking – because of the years’ worth of hard work he’s invested into his shooting.

“In the beginning you’ve got to put a lot in to get it, but once you’ve got the form drilled in and you know how to do it, you don’t have to shoot as many,” said Milne in NSWIS Lights Up ,  a five-part documentary series detailing his inspiring story.

“It’s just now, the quality of arrows is a lot higher.

“So, I’m shooting a little bit less volume, but the quality is higher. For me, it’s going out there knowing you put the work in and knowing that you’ve done the hard yards. When you get out on the field . . . for me . . . it’s almost time to relax.

“I know I’ve done the work; I know I can shoot the scores to win. I generally try to zone all the other feelings – all of those other thoughts – out and just focus on what I do day in, day out.”

Few athletes . . . or people, for that matter. . . could match the 2.03m [6ft 8] tall Milne for bloody-minded determination or focus. He needed to muster all of his strength after becoming a quadriplegic after diving headfirst into an innocuous looking wave at Avoca Beach on Christmas Eve, 2012.

For Jono – who had risked life and limb going full throttle on his motocross bike on bush trails; who’d almost drowned in the surf, who’d been thrown on to rocks and raked over reefs as a surfer – it seems ironic that an action as incongruous as an evening dip could have such a huge ramification on his life.

“It wasn’t big, it wasn’t rough,” said Milne of that evening’s ocean. “My grandfather had a holiday house there for 50 years, so I’ve grown up . . . spent all my childhood at that beach. I’d surfed there at the time for nearly 12 years, so I understand how the ocean works.

“It was just one of those things. I dived into a little wave coming up, and there was a bit of a sandbar, a big deep channel. The sandbar [went] out to where the breakers were. I just dived into a wave and my hands went into the channel and my forehead just caught the top [of the sandbar] going in.

“If I had have been an inch higher I would’ve rubbed my nose on the sand, and I would have been out of the water. It’s one of those things, I’ve been thrown on rocks, sandbars multiple times surfing . . . almost drowned multiple times surfing . . . but I’d always come back from it.

“This was just one of those times where everything worked out . . .  right angle, right pressure [for an unfortunate injury].”   

After being taken out of the water by the lifesavers, Milne was taken to the Royal North Shore Hospital. Despite being heavily sedated, he could hear the doctor speak to his family members outside of his room. After undergoing MRI’s and CT scans Milne’s prognosis was not good.

“The doctor was looking at the scan and he said ‘he hasn’t severed his spinal cord, it’s got a bit of a dent in it at the moment.  But based on his hand movements, and function, he’s probably never going to walk again.

“They were outside, I was sort of sedated – but I don’t know if they allowed for my size with the amount of sedatives – so I was still hearing things that were going on around me. I heard that and thought ‘all I can do is put in the effort and see what happens,’”

Milne recalls that while he was in rehabilitation he could always feel his toes, and one night he tried to summon his big toe to move.

“It’s a weird sensation because it feels the same, but the signal doesn’t get through,” he said. “I was just sitting there, and I made my big toe move! And I tried to do it again, and I got my big toe to start moving. The signals were starting to get back through. The second something would start moving I’d just sit there and just keep trying to get it moving, stronger.

“Eventually I got to the point where I could stand up and they got me in a walking frame. By the time I left rehab, I could walk with walking sticks and a couple of leg braces. Once I got out it was two years of doing physical therapy every day; go to the gym, walking, try to get things stronger.

“It got to a point where I can use a walking stick now, but its faster and safer if I use the chair to get around.”

While he was in rehab, Milne discovered archery – and while he initially viewed the sport as simply something to keep his mind occupied it changed his life.

“I saw archery online and thought ‘I can do that!’” he said. “Sydney Olympic Park was close to rehab, and I lived on a property so I thought ‘when I get home, I can still do it.’

Jono Milne

“It seemed pretty intricate and technical, so I like that side of things, so I [thought] I’ll give it a whirl and 10 years later I’m still doing it. I didn’t get into it thinking about competing, it was just something to keep me busy.”

After joining a club to do Saturday club shoots, Milne emerged as a great talent – something his medal collection for state and national championships reflects. He also won the bronze at the Rio Games and a 2023 world championships medal. In 2019 he shot a world record score of 1394 to win the National Championships title for able-bodied athletes.

 And while Milne is counting down the next hundred days one arrow at a time, it seems as though one of the reasons he’s made the most of his life is because he won’t forget his time – and the uncertainty he experienced – at Royal North Shore Hospital and in rehab.

“I spoke to a few people when I was in rehab, and when they had an injury, they just thought life is over . . . nothing is going to happen anymore, and it’s going to be a lot harder,” recalled Milne.

“If you sit there and dwell on the bad side you’re never going to go forward, you’re going to go backwards. I saw a bit of that in rehab as well.

“I’ve always had the positive attitude. I’ve never been one to sit down and be depressed about what’s happened. There’s plenty of people in hospital who would do anything to be in my position – it’s just the way I look at certain situations.”

Jono Milne

Daniel Lane, NSWIS.

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