Precision Perfect: Matthew Gleaves, British Air Rifle Benchrest Champion

24th January 2024

2023 British Air Rifle Benchrest Champion, Matthew Gleaves, has been breaking down barriers in sport all his life. This year, CSSC’s Active Wellbeing campaign ambassador is encouraging public sector and civil service workers to overcome their own barriers and get active this February.

Active Wellbeing is CSSC’s biggest annual campaign to get the Civil Service and Public Sector moving. Designed with inclusivity at the forefront so anyone can benefit from taking part, this year’s Active Wellbeing theme strives to remove the barriers people face when trying to be active, making it the most inclusive one yet. The campaign provides the tools, tips, techniques, and opportunities for all participants to enjoy the benefits of activity in simple, collaborative ways, either with work colleagues, family members or strangers.

Speaking about the importance of the Active Wellbeing campaign, he said: “Having overcome so many barriers in sport, I am looking forward to applying everything I have learned and joining forces with other civil servants and public sector workers throughout the month of February.  Being active has helped me in more ways than I can say, so I want to get involved with this challenge to inspire others who might see my story and make a positive change in their life.”

54-year-old Gleaves has worked in the civil service in the Department for Education for 36 years. By day he is an ambassador who mentors and supports degree-level apprentices, however, by night his diligence and quest for perfection has seen him become Britain’s top top Air Rifle Benchrest shooter.

The Durham lad’s path to championship status was no small feat but rather one marked by dedication and discipline. With a meticulous approach to benchrest shooting and a commitment to honing his skills, he turned his hobby into a pursuit of excellence and silverware.

He said: “I’ve been an avid air gunner for over 40 years, coming from an air gunning family, including my dad and then my daughter – who shot air pistol on the national 10m junior circuit. However, I never imagined that I’d ever actually win events.

“I then found out that anything was possible, when last season I became Britain’s top ranked benchrest air rifle shooter and scored more points than any other UK shooter for the last two years on the tour.”

With over 40 years’ experience under his belt, his love for the sport grew immeasurably during COVID, where him and his now 22-year-old daughter would practice at their home range every day after work. While her interest faded due to the lack of competitions, his motivation over the two-year period grew to the point where he perfected his craft and became Number 1 in the UK.

“2023 saw me have the most successful season of any Benchrest UK air rifle shooter on record.  I reached the podium at all of the 6 events I attended.  I won 3 outright and was 2nd in the other 3 events.  I also won 7 class golds. The season was crowned by becoming British Champion. I had to shoot near perfect cards (249/250) many times over the season to achieve this.

“These are national level abled bodied competitions, and I am beating the very best the UK has to offer. As you can see, I’m a happy fella.”

As a wheelchair user, he is working hard to prove that he can compete in an able-bodied world under any circumstances while working to promote inclusion in the sport through my YouTube Channel “AirAbility”.

He said: “I’m an all-in sort of person. If I was 15th I’d be trying as hard as I would if I was first. Just do your best and you’ll see that good things can happen.”

The British Champion also spoke about the camaraderie of the sport that keeps him wanting more. He added: “When we come to all-day events we probably only shoot for an hour, so there’s a lot of time to sit in the sun and have a laugh.”

Gleaves’ impact extends beyond personal achievement, leaving an indelible mark on the sport and inspiring a new generation of air rifle enthusiasts. His story is a testament to the transformative power of sport. 

This month, CSSC are working in partnership with The Government People Group to once again deliver Active Wellbeing 2024 which is designed to break down barriers and make sports, physical activity and wellbeing accessible to all participants.