Shannon Archer battles back from injury to reach Commonwealth Games

Shannon Archer had a Commonwealth dream but it turned into a nightmare when hopes of making the 2014 Games were given the elbow.

Gymnast Shannon Archer will represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games. Picture: Jeff Holmes
Gymnast Shannon Archer will represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games. Picture: Jeff Holmes

Diagnosed with osteocondritis, which is the painful separation of cartilage from bone, when she was just 13, it ruled the promising young gymnast out of competing in Glasgow and she feared that it may also scupper any hopes she had of competing at the top level of her sport ever again.

But six years on, she is on her way to Gold Coast, one of 224 athletes who make up Team Scotland, and looking to make up lost ground.

“I am really excited to go out because I missed out on the chance in Glasgow 2014 because I had a really bad elbow injury. I think that kept me motivated to make this team. But it was such a blow for me,” said the former Commonwealth Youth Games athlete. “Before my injury I was at the top of my game and doing really well. To miss out but be surrounded by all these people who were making it, I was thinking ‘what if’.”

But while there was a will, there wasn’t any way she could participate. “The cartilage around the elbow was starting to crumble so I had an operation in 2012 to clear that out and they had to drill a hole to form scar cartilage. There was a long recovery process just to try to get back to simple movements, or putting any weight on my arms again. It was a good six or seven months before I could do that. I couldn’t even open a door, just simple things you wouldn’t even think of.”

A gymnast since she was four, Archer knows that her young body had been put under pressure as she propelled herself onwards and upwards. A member of the Great British set-up at that time, along with the likes of Claudia Fragapane, who won four gold medals in Glasgow, and Amy Tinkler, she was aiming towards inclusion in the squad for Rio 2016 but injury led to her being de-selected.

“The doctor said he had never seen it in anyone so young before so it was a shock for them as well as me.” But not as unnerving as the warning that while the operation could cure her woes, there was a risk that it could also end her sporting ambitions.

“They were cautious about giving me the surgery because they said it could end my career,” explains the Uphall competitor. “Originally they didn’t want me to have surgery but I wanted to get back into gymnastics and surgery was the only option. I just had to keep my fingers crossed.

“All I was thinking was: ‘Am I going to be able to do this sport again?’ Because there was never a guarantee I was going to be able to come back. I appreciate my training a lot more now, because I know it could have been taken away from me. I have been so motivated to come back and make the team. I want to do everything I can to do the best I can.

“I still occasionally get some aches in it, and I have had to change a couple of things in training, which has been a bit of a challenge, but now it is not really affecting me.”

A strong competitor on the vault, she says that the floor is her preferred rotation but, in Australia, she will need a solid performance on all apparatus when competition gets underway on 6 April. “The main competition will be Australia, England and Canada but we will be challenging to get as close as them as we can. Some teams have a team of five – it is the top three that scores – but we only have three in our team, so all of our scores will be counting.”

Having come close to losing it all, though. Archer already knows that every performance matters.