For a 23-year-old who can lay claim to being world champion, world No 1, joint world record holder and a genuine British Olympic medal contender in Tokyo Olympic this summer, rifle shooter Seonaid McIntosh took her time conclusion her sporting range.
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Firstly it was the result of the then-spirited teenager’s resolve to rebel against being part of possibly Scotland’s most successful shooting family. The footsteps of a sister, mother, and father who had all signified their country at Commonwealth level, playing drums in the school pipe band was her target. And yet when she ultimately conceded defeat and picked up a gun, it was growing pains of a physical kind that nearly shot her back down.
I had lots of flare-ups in my joints. When I was younger it was mostly my knees. They would swell up and I couldn’t bend or straighten my knee, it was kind of locked halfway in between. So I couldn’t shoot as I couldn’t get in the positions. We had someone else on the team who had arthritis and he was a lot worse than mine and he struggled to do a lot of things. I was thinking: ‘Is that what it is going to become for me? Is it going to develop into this?
Doctors initially suspected juvenile arthritis and ran tests. McIntosh, meanwhile, was reduced to using crutches when her joints got really bad, all a far cry from her current standing as a real contender to become the first British female to climb the Olympic 2020 shooting rostrum, after the 46 medals won previously by the country’s men.
It was really hard at school to carry a rucksack with books around when you are on crutches at the same time. A lot of my classes were on the top floor, I went to an old school and there were no lifts, she recalls. Eventually, rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed, caused by a stomach infection aged 16 that activated a particular gene. But even then it still took a period of trial and error with medication to reach today’s point where the Scot is able to keep at bay the symptoms through weekly medication.
“Looking back at the start of my shooting, it probably did affect me because a lot of my proprioception was off, I lost a lot of muscle mass in my legs. All that sort of stuff I had to relearn after arthritis got under control,” she says.
A lot of people see it as a sickness where you have to stop doing stuff because you have to defend your joints. But from my own knowledge, you have to live your life. Sure, there are things you have got to be wary of and workaround, so I get fatigued quite a lot as it’s a medication side effect, but it’s not something I let influence my life.
As for now, McIntosh is firmly in the Tokyo Olympic countdown mode. Great Britain will not announce their shooting team until June but, barring serious injury or illness, she is a shoo-in for the Games in July. It was at the 2018 World Championships that McIntosh earned Britain a quota place with a fourth-place finish in the 50-meter rifle three-position competition.
Three days earlier she had become world champion in the non-Olympic 50m rifle prone discipline. According to her, “a good performance at the time” but things have “just got better and better” since. She is not wrong.