Para sport explained: How the Armless Archer shoots

US Paralympic silver medallist Matt Stutzman explains how he shoots a bow and arrow without any arms. 23 Jul 2016
Paralympic archer Matt Stutzman

Paralympic archer Matt Stutzman

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The USA’s Matt Stutzman, who was born without arms, taught himself how to shoot a bow and arrow by watching YouTube videos.

Known as the “Armless Archer,” Stutzman would mimic the methods of an able-bodied archer in the video. For example, when the archer drew his bow with his right hand, Stutzman would draw the bow with his right foot.

Eventually he developed his own mechanics, good enough to bring him to an intense final at the London 2012 Paralympics and left with the silver medal.

As he targets gold in the men’s individual compound in Rio 2016, Stutzman explains his process:

Step 1: Putting on the belt

Stutzman first wraps a strap around his chest and over his shoulder. The strap has a release aid positioned over his right shoulder, and that is used to hook onto the bow string.

All this was designed by Stutzman himself.

He saw there was a strap that able-bodied archers would use; it goes around their wrists and has a trigger, similar to a gun. When the trigger is pulled, it activates the release of the arrow.

“But it didn’t work for me because I don’t have any wrists,” Stutzman said. “Instead of using my lack of fingers to pull the trigger, I would use my jaw to pull the trigger.”

Step 2: Loading the bow

Preparing to shoot from a seated position, Stutzman picks up the arrow with his right foot and loads it into the bow.

Once the arrow is in the bow, he grabs the bow with his right foot and crosses his legs “gentlemen’s style.”

“What this does is it brings the bow up to my chest and then I bend down [toward the bow string]. I hook the release to my [bow’s] string which is on my right shoulder,” he said.

When the string is anchored to the release aid, he sits up, and pushes his right leg away from his chest to draw the bow back.

His left foot is on the ground for stability.

Step 3: Aiming and shooting

Once the string is connected to the release, Stutzman uses his right leg to push the bow away from his body.

“Once I’m on target, I start my aiming process. I pull with my back and then I shoot the bow and hopefully score a 10,” Stutzman said.

Changes since London 2012

Up until London, Stutzman had been using his jaw to activate the release of the arrow. Heading into Rio 2016, he has been using his back more, with hopes that this slight change can bring him gold this time.

“It helps me be consistent with my anchor,” Stutzman said. “I basically just pull with my back and it applies pressure to this release and allows it to shoot. It’s a lot more consistent. I can shoot it more relaxed. And I don’t get what we call target panic where your body thinking ‘shoot now, shoot now.’”

Editor’s note: Para sport explained is a feature series on that will publish once a month, helping the public understand different aspects of the Paralympic Movement.