Jason Eales is not big on winning. He is big on shooting well though. The 37-year-old quadriplegic is ranked second in New Zealand for competitive air rifle shooting and has enjoyed a year of impressive success, leaving him in prime position to qualify for the pinnacle event in Para-Shooting, the Paralympic Games.
When Jason Eales met with Parafed Waikato 2012 he intended to take up cycling. A few hours later, having had a go at a different sport, he had made the decision to pursue shooting.
“They offered shooting as an alternative, and that was me,” he says.
The decision proved to be a good one. Jason is now in a position to represent New Zealand at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, following an impressive showing at the 2015 IPC Shooting World Cup Sydney in September, where he took bronze in the highly competitive R5 event and helped win gold and bronze in the team events, earning New Zealand another Rio 2016 quote slot for its para-shooters.
Growing up as a teenager in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Jason enjoyed the outdoors. It was while he was out doing what he enjoyed most; cycling, that things changed drastically and unexpectedly.
After crashing on a training ride with a friend when he was 14-years-old, Jason cracked his skull and crushed three vertebrae at the top of his spine, leaving him a quadriplegic.
“Two weeks after the accident, I woke from an unconscious state to find myself in a hospital, completely paralysed and unable to move any of my limbs.
“The only thing keeping me from completely freaking out was the wonderful smile on my mother’s face.”
From then on it was a journey of recovery, with everyday improvements starting from the smallest muscle twitch to the couple of awkward steps taken when leaving the hospital.
Despite the severity of his accident, a determined Jason was able to walk out of the hospital doors five months later.
“Throughout my whole ordeal I managed to stay positive by setting both short term and long term goals and focusing on achieving them, something I continue to do today.”
Jason moved to New Zealand in 2010, following a visit to his parents, who had previously emigrated and were living in Hamilton.
It was then he met with Parafed, and took up a sport he had only ever mucked around with previously.
Shooting helped Jason meet people and settle in Hamilton, as well as benefiting his physical condition.
“From a physical perspective the gym side of the sport is helping tremendously,” he says.
“If it wasn’t for the shooting, I don’t think I would be going as rigorously to the gym, the way I have been.”
Jason attends the gym three times a week as part of his shooting training. On the other days he is at the Hamilton Pistol Club range shooting, with one rest day a week. He juggles training with his role as a senior software test analyst at Livestock Improvement Corporation.
“When I first started, the biggest challenge was trying to figure out why the pellet was not hitting the middle,” commented Jason.
“It was like ‘I need to do something about that.’”
From then on, shooting practice has been about refining his style – what is called the shooting process. This involves many different factors, all which need to align to get an accurate shot.
However, Jason is quick to point out that, “at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, it is about how focused you are and how much concentration you have put into the shot.”
His shooting career exploded when he beat Michael Johnson at the New Zealand Cup event in February 2015. Michael is the benchmark in the world of Para-Shooting, and in beating him, Jason gained the belief in himself.
“When I did manage to beat him on that particular day, it was like, I can do this,” he says.
“That just gave me the confidence to take it to a new level.”
Later in 2015, at only his second IPC Shooting World Cup, Jason claimed bronze in the R5 event and secured another quota spot for New Zealand at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The R5 discipline is the 10m Air Rifle Prone.
In the first round, competitors have 60-minutes to take 60 shots, with the top eight competitors advancing to the final. Then competitors get eight shots, after which the lowest scorer is eliminated. Every two shots from then on, someone is eliminated until the winner remains.
To secure the final place in the New Zealand Paralympic team, Jason requires a minimum qualifying score in the 2016 IPC Shooting World Cup Dubai event which takes place early this year.
His disability classification allows him to shoot from a table and chair.
“I’m also allowed somebody to help me load my air rifle. This task is done by my dad, so it’s now a family sport for us,” he says.
“My dad Rene Eales had been with me every step (and shot) of the way. He also helps me analyse my performance using a custom written spreadsheet and has spent countless hours perfecting it so we can break down the competition into its smallest understandable part.”
While so far Jason has managed to fund his own way to competitions, achieving his goal of Paralympic representation has seen friends and workmates get behind him by starting a Givealittle page (www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/jasoneales/) to help fund upcoming events.
The $40,000 goal goes towards getting him to the 2016 IPC Shooting World Cup in Dubai (part of the selection criteria for Rio), Thailand and Poland (to improve his world ranking) and to help raise funds for an electronic target training system.
“Training is the most important activity right now, so the benefit of getting familiar with the target system that is used at World Cup and Olympic events is priceless.”
While hugely focused on achieving his Olympic dream, Jason’s ambitions don’t stop there. He plans to be the best – in the world.
For more information, visit Jasoneales.com