Armless archer has Olympic aspirations

Matt Stutzman prepares to fire a shot during a match in Richland. Stutzman, 28, of Richland, was born without arms and u
Matt Stutzman prepares to fire a shot during a match in Richland. Stutzman, 28, of Richland, was born without arms and uses his foot and jaw to shoot. (AP)

When Matt Stutzman of Richland unzipped his bow case and began assembling his compound bow, it drew a lot of attention from some of the other shooters attending a target match sponsored by the Webster County Bow Hunters and Archery Association.

There is nothing special about Stutzman’s bow, nothing special about his case, nothing special about the sights or the tools he uses to put them together with and nothing extraordinary about his arrows. They are all off-the-shelf items that any archer can buy.

What was drawing their attention was how Stutzman was doing all of this — with his feet.

Stutzman, 28, was born without arms.

He began getting serious about his archery a few years ago. During the last year, he’s picked up several sponsors. He said he shoots at one major match a month and at least one smaller club match during the same time. He began shooting at 16.

He had one major reason for bearing down.

“I wanted to be sponsored because of how well I shoot, not because of how,” he said.

His normal shooting position is seated in a chair holding the bow with his right foot. He uses a mechanical release attached to a sling around his right shoulder. To pull the trigger, he uses his jaw.

Shooting in bigger tournaments has meant learning to adjust to people watching him.

“I’m learning how to get over that,” he said.

When he shoots in tournaments, he doesn’t enter as a disabled shooter. He shoots along with everyone else. His average scores are good enough, he said, that he’s a contender for the 2012 Olympic team.

“To be the best, you have to shoot with the best,” he said.

Stutzman not only uses standard off-the-shelf archery equipment, he tries to use few modified things in the rest of his life, too.

“I eat, brush my teeth, shave with my feet,” he said, “Everything I do I try to make it as non-modified as possible.”

One of his biggest points of pride: “I have a non-modified car,” he said.

Besides his shooting matches, Stutzman also shares his skills with schools and other interested groups. He said he likes being able to take the lessons learned in archery and use them to talk about life.

“If I can shoot a bow with no arms,” he said, “then anybody can fulfill their dreams.”

He does sometimes have to remind people that what he does is not a trick. He lives every day of his life using his feet to perform tasks.

So how good of a shot is he? In addition to being one spot away from the Olympics, he also said that splitting arrows, Robin Hood-style, happens now and then.

For people who meet him and are uncomfortable, Stutzman simply gives them a good dose of his humor.

“Then they know I’m OK with my condition,” he said.

Jeremy Adams, the club’s range officer, was watching Stutzman shoot.

“It’s phenomenal to see someone with a disability like that who can do that,” he said, “It’s inspiring.”

Brian Whitmore, president of the club, was also amazed at how well Stutzman shoots.“We all strive to shoot at that level,” he said, “It’s neat to see that.”

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