The Armless Archer of Rio

Oct 6, 2016 | Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
The Armless Archer of Rio

image by: D. Myles Cullen

The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world - Stephen Hawking

In December 2015 Matt Stutzman attempted to break the world record for the longest accurate archery shot. Sitting in his chair, he drew back his bow, and listened to the cameras that were clicking away hoping to catch the exact moment he took his shot.  Feeling confident, Stutzman took a breath, took his aim, and released the arrow.  The arrow flew past the crowd and hit a target way off in the distance.  In fact, it flew so far that the official results had to be radioed back to Stutzman and the crowd.  When the distance of 310 yards was announced Stutzman jumped out of his chair and cheered.  The crowd went crazy.

There were many reasons to celebrate that day.  1) Stutzman had indeed set a new world record for the longest accurate shot,  2) the 310 yards he shot is nearly 4 times the distance of the previous world record, and  3)  Matt Stutzman was born without arms and shoots using his feet and chin.  Yes, Matt Stutzman is an archer without arms.  Incredible.

Reading his story, it’s hard to believe that this record breaking Matt Stutzman is the same Matt Stutzman that just six years prior had been unemployed, unable to feed his family, and was seriously depressed.  He said, "No guy who has kids feels good about not being able to take care of them.”  So he did something about it.

Born and raised in Iowa, Stutzman decided that the best way to put food on the table was to hunt.  He said, "I hunted with a gun when I was younger, but one day I got this idea about getting a bow and going out in the woods to harvest an animal.  I decided to use a bow because the hunting season is longer for archery where I live.”  That makes sense, but….he had no experience with a bow, and no arms to hold the bow.

To me, and just about everyone around him, learning to shoot a bow without arms seemed like a really difficult, if not impossible, task.  And at the time, we would have been right.  Stutzman said, “I Googled ‘how to shoot with no arms’, and there was nothing."  But, unlike most people, who would have been discouraged and come up with a Plan B, Stutzman got motivated.  

In 2009, he bought a bow, watched a lot of archery videos, and tried to emulate what he saw able bodied shooters doing while using the body he had.  Stutzman practiced for 8 hours a day and developed his own method of shooting and within a couple of months Stutzman had more than 200 pounds of meat in his freezer. Clearly his way of shooting worked.

In fact, by 2011 he had become such a good shot that he decided to enter a local archery competition. When he arrived, Stutzman said he was shocked to learn that he was the only competitor shooting without arms.  He said, “As silly as it sounds, I actually thought I was going there to compete against people without arms.  But the reality is that I’m the only one who does this.”  Again, not letting himself be deterred by this discovery, Stutzman competed (and won) on a regular basis and moved his way up the ranks.

Ultimately, these competitions changed Stutzman’s life.  In 2011, it was suggested that he try for a spot on the 2012 Paralympic team.  He did, he made it, and he won a Silver medal. Three years later Stutzman broke the world record with his 310 yard shot and set his sights on the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

Heading into the Rio Paralympics Stutzman was the clear favorite.  However, due to a few equipment failures and really gusty winds, he placed fourth overall losing the Bronze by 1 point. At first, he was upset by the loss.  But Stutzman doesn't wallow for long.  He said, “Days like today, they happen, but I have my sights set on my next adventure.  I still want to be the best archer in the world and I’m going to continue training until I reach that goal.  I’m more motivated now than I have ever been, bring on Tokyo 2020.”  

And he’s not joking when he says new adventure. In 2017 Stutzman will begin competing in able-bodied archery events so that he can try for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team.  Not the Paralympic team. Something tells me that he will make it.  And he will win.  Damn.

Stacy Matson is a health enthusiast from Southern California and regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of Best.

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