USA Paralympian Matt Stutzman always wanted to be the best archer 

Matt Stutzman.
Matt Stutzman.

The 37-year-old Matt Stutzman was selected for the United States able-bodied team in 2017 where he was the seventh best archer in the United States and 33rd in the world.

But on his journey to being one of the most recognisable faces in the sport, his perspective on what makes an archer the best has changed.

“Before it was the guy who wins everything, the guy who's always on top but it's not necessarily the case,” Stutzman said.

“If you look at all the other famous athletes, they don't win all the time but what makes them so much better than everybody else, is they're making their sport better.”

“So now for me to be considered, in my mind the best archer in the world, it's how I make the sport better than it was when I started.”

Even if I would fail at it, they would still want me to try it and this taught me to think outside the box

Learning to live with no arms

Stutzman was born perfectly healthy but without arms. There is no medical explanation for his condition and soon after he was born, he was put up for adoption before a couple came along and fell in love him instantly. From a young age, he was encouraged by his parents to do things on his own and if at times he failed that became part of his journey.

“I feel like if they wouldn't have done that then I wouldn't be here today because at a very young age, they said you can do it,” Stutzman said. “Even if I would fail at it, they would still want me to try it and this taught me to think outside the box and learn how to adapt to the world because they didn't just do everything for me.”

Flipping through the chapters of Stutzman’s life to 2009, he was a stay-at-home dad, unemployed and depressed since he was unable to provide for his family. But it was while watching television one day that the then 26-year-old saw a man take a bow and thought, ‘why can’t I do that’.

So, he went down to the archery store and told the employee behind the counter that he wanted to buy a bow. “He looks at me weirdly because people without arms don't buy bows,” Stutzman said. “He asked me how I was going to shoot it and I said I have no idea, but it's probably best that you just leave the room.”

Stutzman proceeded to shoot the arrow into the ceiling. But it was in that moment that he thought that this is something he could do.

Paralympic journey and Tokyo 2020 outlook

Stutzman initially turned to archery to help feed his family by hunting deer, but little did he know where he would be in just three years.

One day a friend told Stutzman that he should enter a tournament as he had been doing well hunting, so in early 2010, he entered his first competition.

After a while he was able to earn modest endorsements and money through competing, but with the goal of becoming the best archer in the world and no longer be a sideshow at competitions, he began to practice intensively.

Stutzman eventually found himself winning a para archery qualifying tournament and earning a spot on the USA Team for the London 2012 Paralympic Games as the number one seed.

Stutzman celebrates with Jere Forsberg of Finland and Dogan Hanci of Turkey after winning silver in the Men's Individual Compound Archery at London 2012.
Stutzman celebrates with Jere Forsberg of Finland and Dogan Hanci of Turkey after winning silver in the Men's Individual Compound Archery at London 2012.
2012 Getty Images

At London 2012, the relatively unknown Stutzman, who had only competed at one international competition prior, took home a silver medal in the men's individual compound open event. Unfortunately, four years later in Rio he wasn't able to return to the podium, finishing his campaign in the Round of 16.

After the Games he decided to take time away from para archery. During that time, he won an outdoor able-bodied national championship and the time off also allowed Stutzman to refocus his goals for Tokyo 2020.

“In Rio, I weighed 228lb (103kg). I was overweight so this Games I’ve focused on making sure I was healthy,” he said.

USA Paralympian Matt Stutzman during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
USA Paralympian Matt Stutzman during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

“I've lost like 60lb (27kg) and I've been able to shoot for longer periods of time without being winded, my hip doesn't hurt anymore like physically I feel fine and I'm better which gives me more confidence and especially in archery when you're shooting at something that's really far away and small confidence is very important.

“I'm hoping the result is better, but I feel like it can be if I just remember my game.”

I've had opportunities to quit but I didn’t

Stutzman has been given every opportunity to quit but has never done so. He’s been determined from the start to be the best father he can be for his family, especially his three children.

“I've had lots of opportunities to quit,” he said. “I've had the perfect excuses for everything if I wanted to take them and I didn't do that. I decided to keep working, keep pushing and keep trying.”

Surprising and inspiring others

It’s common for Stutzman to encounter people who don’t think he can do something because of his impairment, and he has many stories to tell.

Like the time he was walking up the stairs and a guy was surprised he was able to do that despite having no arms. “People assume because I have no arms, I can't do anything and they're amazed that I'm walking up the stairs,” Stutzman said.

Or when he was at the airport and a man beside him was watching Stutzman on his tablet before finally saying that 'it would be easier if he used his hands’.

However, perhaps one of the greatest reactions is when he drives.

Yes, Stutzman uses his feet to drive. People are astonished when he gets out of the car and his family, all of whom have arms, follow behind him.

USA Paralympian Matt Stutzman.
USA Paralympian Matt Stutzman.

“They think ‘that doesn't make any sense’,” Stutzman laughed.

However, Stutzman has also been able to inspire more archers with upper body impairments. At a competition in the Czech Republic last year, two other archers without arms showed up to shoot.

“So now there's three people without arms,” Stutzman said. And they decided to take up the sport because of the American. “That's telling the world that anybody can shoot a bow if you want to.”