The overcast sky and gusts of wind made the conditions far from perfect for archery at the Ponca State Park,Nebraska,last September. From where Matt Stutzman was,230 yards away from the target,accuracy was near-impossible.
Fortunately for Stutzman,born without arms,that is a word he has learned to disregard. Sitting on a stool with left leg on the grass for support,his right leg keeps the bow in place as he uses his mouth to hold a release aid that is strapped around his shoulder and nudges the arrow with his nose.
Buffeted by wind the arrow takes some five seconds to travel across the two football fields of open ground before hitting the target. And just like that the world record for the longest target hit with a compound bow belongs to Stutzman,30.
Stutzman doesn’t believe he is at a disadvantage. “My feet are my hands. I believe how I shoot is an advantage,because I use my leg and my leg is the strongest part of my body,” he says.
Matt,who has qualified in the Compound Men Open event,credits his spirit and ability to the no-nonsense approach with which he was raised in Iowa. “Our house wasn’t modified for me because the world wasn’t going to be modified for me,” he says. Matt climbed trees,carry five gallon pails of feed for cattle,went fishing,was able to shoot a hole in a coin at 50 yards. He has three children and has done his share of fixing bottles,changing diapers and cooking .
I want to be the best in the world. Not just the best with no arms, he says.
Able or disabled,the lines blur
Matt Stutzmann isn’t the only archer to put their able-bodied counterparts to shame. England’s Danielle Brown had won gold in the individual compound event at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics,qualified for the 2010 Commonwealth Games after finishing second to World No.1 Nicky Hunt in the trials. At Delhi,Brown who can’t stand,and competes sitting down or leaning on a stool,won a gold in the team event.
In May,Natalia Partyka of Poland became the second Paralympic athlete to qualify for consecutive Olympics. The 22-year-old Partyka,who was born without a right hand and forearm,is a force at the Paralympics having won a gold and a silver each in the 2004 and 08 Paralympics . However she isn’t just there to make up the numbers,even among the able bodied competitors. Currently ranked 64th in the world,she has won a silver in the team event at the 2009 European Championships and a bronze in the doubles event at the 2008 European Championships.
In Delhi,Storey became the second paralympic athlete to compete for England in the able-bodied segment in cycling. Storey who had won two gold in swimming as a 14-year-old in the 1992 paralympics was competing as a cyclist. The then 32-year-old,who was born with a deformed left hand,had two years previously won Paralympic gold in the 3km pursuit in Beijing in 3:36.637 – a time which would have seen her place seventh in the able bodied category. At Delhi,however,Storey who was recovering from a virus could finish only sixth at the CWG.