Injured soldier determined to shoot for stars

BE careful, there’s no panic,” Sean Baldwin says as he places the rifle in my arms and I look through the sights at a target the size of a saucer, 10m down the hall at Morton Stadium last Tuesday morning.

“Keep the finger on the trigger, it’s just the slightest movement, there’s no need to squeeze it. You’re jumping away, you’re doing this,” Baldwin, a Paralympic shooter, adds as he jerks his index finger towards the palm of his hand.

“Barely move it when you’re ready. Stop moving your finger. Nice and easy.” Whoosh — the air rifle spits a bullet towards — I hope — a bulls-eye, which is worth 10.9 in competition.

“Okay....” says Baldwin, “3.2.”

Baldwin came to be standing here, via many bends in the road. An army man, he’s competed in two Military Games, three Military World Championships, three Military European Championships and an Orientation World Championships.

He has also lost a leg while in the uniform.

Now he shoots in both able-body and Paralympic events and aims to be the country’s first-ever shooter at a Paralympic Games in London next year.

“We were out in Liberia, I was deployed in November 2003,” he recalls before filing the bullets into his rifle. “And we were on patrol after being there for about a week and had a car accident. And the driver was killed.

“I broke every bone in my body. Crushed my skull, shoulders, ribs, broke my pelvis. Broke my legs — I didn’t actually lose it though. Yet.

“Unfortunately my injuries were so bad, they had to get me home within a certain period of time. And they said the only way to make me stable was to cut my leg off; that was below the knee.

“So, I lost my leg below the knee, was in a coma then after I got back and my body just collapsed really. My lungs stopped working and unfortunately I got that flesh-eating disease and they had to cut above the knee then.

“It took about six weeks before I could come off the ventilator; my lungs wouldn’t work. But once I got them working I got to where I am now. Everything followed then.”

Whoosh! “4.1, you’re getting better.”

It’s my first time feeling the weight and weird power of a gun under my chin. And the sharpshooter to my left beneath a special shooting uniform once lifted a rifle for the first time too.

“Eight years ago I actually met a guy in the military who was trying to introduce this kind of shooting. He was just trying to get some guys interested in it.

“So I jumped up off the bleachers one day, had one shot and then I had to leave. Thought no more about it but I met him six months later and I got into it.

“Not long after I qualified for European Championships. Then unfortunately I had to go to Africa and I lost my leg.”

“Are they expensive? That’s about €2,000 in your hands there. Hey, hey! 7.4... one more?”

Baldwin is at the top of his game. He has won several nationals, competes against all-comers internationally over four separate events. So what’s the key to reaching the top of this sport? Try dealing with nerves.

“Butterflies? Without a doubt. Everyone gets them. It’s how you handle the butterflies.

“Everyone gets the nerves, the bit of shaking, the whole lot. It’s just how you relax into it. And whoever relaxes the best is the guy who wins it. That’s just the way it is.

“In the air rifle prone there’s a young lady from Australia. She’s 58. On her 12th Olympics. She shot a world record in Spain and she still has another Olympics in her.

“The beauty about this sport is, you don’t have to be 20, it’s great though if you do start young because you need about 10 years until you reach the top level.”

“You’re getting worse, zero. come on you can’t finish on that.”

Baldwin admits his new leg makes his passion that bit more difficult especially when dragging the gear around on his own a lot of the time. But he was grateful to pull on the fatigues again and return to his day job.

“I’m back to work full-time, no worries with the health” he says, “I work in logistics — I had to change tack a little — in the Training Centre in the Curragh.

“I don’t go overseas now, because of the conditions being so difficult in that part of Africa, the prosthetic leg I have wouldn’t work properly. The one I have is computerised and it just wouldn’t work, y’know?” he shrugs.

“But now we’re back in the Leb, you never know. I’d go back in the morning for you. My last tour in the Leb was 92. So it would be good to go back and see what’s changed.

“It’s all about balance not strength at all, you’re using your muscle, that’s the problem.. Nice one, seven.”

* Twitter: @adrianrussell

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox


Saturday, June 25, 2022

  • 2
  • 6
  • 27
  • 28
  • 41
  • 45
  • 39

Full Lotto draw results »