How opera singer Janelle Colquhoun became national champion archer after losing her sight

How opera singer Janelle Colquhoun became national champion archer after losing her sight
  • PublishedJune 3, 2024

Janelle Colquhoun fell into a pit of despair when her sight began to deteriorate at the age of 28 because of her type 1 diabetes.

Over six months, her vision sank deeper into darkness, terminating her musical career and sending her into a two-year spiral of depression.

“I was completely suicidal,” Ms Colquhoun said. 

“My career as an opera singer went because people were saying, ‘You can’t be on the stage because you might fall off so you can’t be an opera singer anymore.'”

She underwent operation after operation in a desperate bid to save her sight, but after 26 surgeries her doctors concluded it was futile.

Janelle Colquhoun and Dame Joan Sutherland
Janelle Colquhoun the young opera singer, with Australian opera legend Dame Joan Sutherland.(Supplied: Janelle Colquhoun)

The Brisbane resident then founded her business, Salubrious Productions, an events agency that promotes artists with disabilities.

Embarking on an arts leadership program in Wales, she went on to discover archery in the quaint village of Grosmont in Yorkshire.

In a “cool” 18th-century cathedral that held archery classes, she soon fell in love with the sport.

Returning to Brisbane she joined the Samford Valley Target Archers Club and applied for NDIS funding to buy assistive equipment for blind archers.

Her NDIS funding now pays for an archery assistant, Paul Fruwirth, who helps line up her shot and tells her where the arrows land so she can adjust accordingly.

Together with Mr Fruwirth, she’s travelled around Australia and the world, winning medals in local, state, national, and international competitions.

A woman with an archery bow
Janelle Colquhoun says she’s a fiercely competitive person.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Kenji Sato)

Ms Colquhoun has previously broken the Australian record for vision-impaired archery in both indoor and outdoor competitions.

Over the past five years, she’s taken out the national championships several times and last year competed in the International Blind Sports World Games in Birmingham.

She also sang the Australian anthem at the national archery championships last year, and once a week she sings in a choir to maintain her voice.

Ms Colquhoun says her business is doing well, her mental health is much improved and, thanks to archery, she’s gained new friends, experiences and independence.

“Archery is a sport for all abilities,” she said.

“It’s just that the scores of blind archers are much less than the sighted archers because they’re cheating and looking at the target face.”


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