As a tiny, waif-like 5-year-old throwing herself on, over and along every piece of gymnastics apparatus there is, Shannon Archer could never have imagined the elite athlete she would become.

Indeed, not just any elite athlete but rather, Scotland’s most successful female gymnast ever.

And similarly, that 5-year-old child would never have foreseen the day when she’d hang up her leotard.

Yet that day, twenty years after Archer first set foot in a gym, is now within touching distance.

After thousands of hours of training, numerous national titles and countless medals including, most notably, Commonwealth bronze in 2022, she has just two more competitions left before she walks off into retirement.

Those two events are the Scottish Championships, which take place this weekend at Ravenscraig in North Lanarkshire and the British Championships, which take place next month in Telford. 

To know that the end of a career which has spanned the entirety of her adult life and the majority of her childhood is hurtling towards her induces, admits Archer, a heady mix of emotions.

“Gymnastics has been my whole life and now the end isn’t far away and that’s strange,” the 25-year-old from West Lothian says. 

“There is a feeling of sadness but more so, I’m excited to see what’s next. I’m excited to do these last two comps and then I’ll be happy to step away and let the younger kids go for it.

“My body is struggling to keep up now and at this level, you need your body to be working with you, not against you.”

Archer’s body has certainly been pushed to its limit throughout the course of her career but particularly, over the past year.

What should have been a minor operation on her ankle twelve months ago turned into a major issue with it kick-starting a run of injuries that saw her sidelined for an entire year.

During that time on the sidelines, Archer admits there were more than a few moments when she wondered if she’d ever be back in competitive action.

But there was something that drove her on to ensure she went out on her terms rather than fading into the shadows, without a fitting send-off.

“Last year, constantly trying to get ready for competition but never quite making it took a massive toll on me physically and mentally and I knew there was only so much longer I could put myself through that,” she says.

“There were a couple of times when I did think I just didn’t have it in me to make it back and so maybe it was the time to stop.

“But then I’d been through so much and I didn’t want that past year to have been for nothing, I wanted there to be a light at the end of the tunnel and something that would make the last year worth it rather than just going out on an injury.”

Archer admits that of all the accolades she garnered over the course of her glittering career, two in particular stand out.

The first was her return to the GB squad after a decade-long gap between 2012 and 2022, something that’s virtually unheard of in gymnastics.

And second is her bronze medal in the vault at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Scottish woman to win a Commonwealth medal in the sport.

That silverware was the fulfillment of what had been a lifelong dream for Archer and, ironically, planted the seed of retirement in her head.

“Going into the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, it was in the back of my head that, if everything went really well, there was the potential of a medal but it was never an official goal,” she says.

“The relief when I landed those vaults was huge. But the wait for the score was just as nervous as the wait for my actual vault.

“I think winning that bronze contributed to me now retiring, though. Winning a Commonwealth medal had been a childhood dream but I thought that’s all it was; a dream. I didn’t really think it’d happen.

“So after Birmingham, I did wonder how I could ever top that because the one thing I’d wanted to achieve, I’d done it.”

It’s inevitable that Archer goes into this weekend’s Scottish Championships and next month’s British Championships, harbouring ambitions of ending her career on a high.

But more than winning medals, her priority is just soaking up the experience of being an elite gymnast for the last few times before she returns to Scotland from her current base in Essex to start a strength-and-conditioning business with a view to working across the sporting spectrum, as well as designing choreography and artistry for gymnasts.

“It feels great to be 100 percent fit again and it’s a massive relief I’ve made it to this point of being able to compete,” she says.

“Obviously I’d love to have two good competitions and go out on the highest of highs but the main thing is to appreciate I’m back out there because for a while, both me and my coach weren’t sure I ever would be.

“So I want to take that in and enjoy it.”