Paralympic Games Paris 2024: Australian archer Jono Milne on accident, career

Jono Milne dived through a wave. He could feel his feet on the sand as he tried to come up, but his feet couldn’t move. He knew his life had changed forever.

Milne broke his neck at the New South Wales beach of Avoca on December 23, 2012. On February 10, 2024, there are 200 days to go until the opening ceremony of the Paris Paralympics, where the 38-year-old archer is hoping to become a Paralympic gold medallist.

”I like the focus side of things and the mental side of archery,” Milne tells Wide World of Sports.

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“Anyone can pull the bow back and shoot it, but I’ve been able to have the mind strength to focus on what the shot feels like and how the tension is. Controlling the mind is the hard part with archery. I like the determination to sit there and figure it out and go, ‘Why isn’t it working how I want it to? What do I need to do to get it how I want?’.”

By the end of this week, Milne will have shot about 700 arrows. The two-time Paralympian usually fires about a thousand a week — some in his garage in Avoca and some at Homebush, on the same range that hosted the Sydney 2000 Olympics and Paralympics — but he’s dealing with tennis elbow.

The former carpenter also makes a living out of archery: earning his dough through coaching, importing and re-selling gear, and helping people maintain their equipment.

“It’s also a bit of a meditation type thing,” Milne says, detailing his obsession with the ancient sport.

“If you’re having a bad day, the second you pick up that bow and start focusing on what you need to do to be accurate, everything else just disappears. You’re spending so much mental energy on focusing on trying to perfect that shot that you don’t have time to think about anything else.”

Milne was 26 when his head and a sandbar collided.

“We were up at my family’s holiday house, just getting ready for an early Christmas dinner, and I thought, ‘I’ll go down for a swim at the beach; it’s quite warm’,” he recalls.

“I was standing there with my feet in the water, I dived through a little wave at the shore, my hands went down the back of the little gully in the sandbar and my forehead just got enough friction on it to click my chin down.”

It was almost 6pm, but lifeguards were yet to leave. They rushed to his aid and got him on a board.

Scans confirmed a horrific injury — a shattered C7 vertabrae. It had exploded into six or seven pieces.

These days, Milne is considered a high-functioning quadraplegic. He spends most of his time in a wheelchair, but can walk short distances with a walking stick. He can also do small carpentry jobs around the house.

But in the immediate aftermath of the accident, he couldn’t open a water bottle.

A metal cage and a plate were inserted into his neck, filling the gap left by the destroyed C7 vertabrae. The six or seven pieces of bone were crushed up and packed around the cage. The bone regrew around the cage, fusing the C6 with the T1.

His mindset is astonishing.

“I’ve never had a real depressed stage after the accident. I just look at it as another challenge I’ve got to learn to deal with,” Milne says.

“There are days where I miss being able to do certain things that I used to, like getting out on the surfboard.

“I’ve always been a big guy — I’m six foot eight — and I’ve always been the one that people come to for a hand to do things, and now it’s swapped around and I need a hand to do certain things that I used to do … I’ll need people to give me a hand with carrying a piece of timber or moving a sheet of plywood … So I’ve got to ask for a little bit of a hand more often than I would usually like, but that’s really the only downside to it.”

Milne, who grew up in Mulgoa on the outskirts of western Sydney, is an athlete at the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS).

He’s currently on a training camp at the South Australian Sports Institute (SASI), honing his craft with the Australian able-bodied World Cup team.

At the 2023 World Para Archery Championships, held in the Czech Republic, he won a bronze medal in the men’s individual compound to secure a Paris 2024 quota place for Australia.

He won a bronze medal in that event at Rio 2016. Some eight years on, he wants to break through for his first Paralympic gold medal.

“A lot of the things that I used to enjoy doing were off the table after the accident,” Milne says.

“I wanted something to keep my mind active and spend a bit of time doing while I was going through rehab.

“I never expected to get to where I am.”

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