A family who took up clay pigeon shooting during the foot-and-mouth crisis are pursuing an Olympic dream. Victoria Farncombe reports.

It was the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001 which led fisherman Jim Rowley to look for an alternative hobby.

The restrictions imposed during the outbreak meant he couldn’t use footpaths to go fishing, so was forced to find an alternative.

It may have been an extremely fortunate decision for the 44-year-old from Pensnett, Dudley, to choose to take up clay pigeon shooting as now his four children have discovered a natural talent for the sport and hope to make it to the 2012 Olympics.

Jack, aged 19, James, 18, Shaun, 16, and Laura, 14, all harbour dreams of medal glory.

James and Jack are ranked first and third respectively in the England junior team at the discipline of Down the Line (DTL) and will this weekend be representing their country in Cape Town in the Clay Pigeon Shooting World Championships.

Both are confident of a podium spot.

“I’m shooting well at the moment,” said James, who has just completed a carpentry course and is in the process of starting his own landscaping business.

“I’m a bit nervous but I can only try my best. England has a good record in the sport – we’ve just won the European Championships – and, as I’m number one, I should have a good chance of getting placed.”

To pay for their sons’ trip, Jim and his wife Linda have held fundraising events, moonlighted as clay pigeon shooting referees and called on the generosity of family members.

But they will need to find thousands more pounds next year when the selection process for the London Games begins in earnest.

Shaun represents Staffordshire in the Olympic Skeet discipline, while Laura is three times junior county ladies champion in the same field.

“There’s a certain degree of sibling rivalry,” says Shaun. “But I would say it is healthy competition. We support each other. We all get on. We all like each other.”

Jim and Linda already spend about £10,000 a year on training, equipment and travelling expenses for their four children to pursue their dreams and admit it has been a strain on their budget.

With many of the selection events for 2012 due to take place abroad, in places like Cyprus, the couple believe their children will miss out to richer competitors if they can’t afford to send them overseas.

School secretary Linda said: “The only people shooting for Great Britain at the Olympics are the ones with lots of money.

“It is unfair. We should be sending our most talented people, not the ones who can afford it. It is an elitist sport.”

Project manager Jim added: “Clay pigeon shooting as a sport is underfunded in this country.

“It’s not the same elsewhere. In Australia, they gave the team £30,000 so money is no obstacle to talent.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do next year.” Despite the financial concerns, the Rowleys are passionate about the sport and believe it has brought them closer together as they spend weekends practising at the Doveridge Shooting Range, in Uttoxeter.

Linda also credits shooting with teaching her children to be responsible. “In this sport, you have to have a calm temperament and you must be completely focused,” she explains. “You have to be mentally strong and you have to have self discipline. You can’t be a fool with a gun.”

James agrees. “I have never been out on the streets, I never drink,” he said. “Shooting’s the most important thing. It’s our family’s drug.”

* To sponsor the Rowleys, who are saving their money through Thomas Cook’s Cash Passport scheme, email Linda at lrowley@st-marks.dudley.gov.uk.