In four years as a competitive archer, Matt Stutzman has gained international fame for becoming a professional archer, earning a Paralympic silver medal, and breaking the archery long-shot world record. But Stutzman insists he’s just getting started.
“I won’t stop pushing forward until I’m the world’s best archer,” Stutzman said. “Then I’ll set a new goal.”
Stutzman, a lifelong bowhunter who was born without arms, began shooting competitively in 2010 to prove anything is possible. His accomplishments since then suggest he might already be the world’s best archer. Consider:
- In 2011, he broke the Guinness World Record for longest archery shot, setting a record of 230 yards – nearly the length of two football fields, including the end zones.
- As a professional archer, he’s paid to train, travel and compete in his favorite sport.
- His inspiring story and can-do attitude make him a well-liked motivational speaker known as “The Inspirational Archer.”
- He took home a silver medal from his first Paralympic Games in 2012.
- He did all the above – and more – using only his feet to shoot the bow.
So, what competitions must Stutzman win to be considered the world’s best archer? Here are his three criteria:
1. Win gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If he makes the 2016 Paralympic archery team, Stutzman will be eligible to win two medals: an individual medal and a team medal. This is a big change from the 2012 Paralympics, which only awarded individual medals. Another major change is that target faces at the 2016 Paralympics will be smaller, but set at shorter distances.
Many tournaments remain in coming months to determine which archers will compete for Team USA.
“When I compete in any event, I plan to win,” Stutzman said. “I train just as hard for every competition because they’re all important. My training to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics, though, meant moving my family from Fairfield, Iowa, to Salt Lake City so I can train at Easton’s training facility.”
2. Win the final shoot-off at The Vegas Shoot
Stutzman earned one of five spots in the final shoot-down at the 2014 National Field Archery Association’s Indoor National Championships, and finished in fifth place. He aims to earn a top-five spot at each competition, and win NFAA’s Vegas Shoot.
3. Earn a place on the able-bodied men’s travel team
Stutzman says joining the traveling archery team for able-bodied compound archers – Reo Wilde is a member of this team – would solidify his status as the world’s best archer. He often competes among able-bodied men and proudly notes that he shattered the archery long-shot record by 14 yards, a record that had been set by an able-bodied archer.
A Winning Technique
Like many para-archers, Stutzman shoots while seated. He uses his left foot to put the arrow in place, and then pushes the compound bow away with his right foot while pulling the arrow back with a release aid strapped to his body. He uses his mouth only to guide the release onto the string.
His bowhunting background and the compound’s slightly more compact design is the main reason he doesn’t use a recurve. Recurve bows are the only bow type allowed in the Olympics, but compounds are allowed in the Paralympics.
“Recurve limbs are too long, so I couldn’t get the clearance to shoot a recurve while seated,” Stutzman said. “I shot my brother’s recurve when I was younger, but I had to hold it sideways!”
A New Release Aid
As he pursues a spot on the 2016 U.S. men’s archery team, he’ll use the same bow and technique with a new release aid. Until recently, he used a release aid that rested against his cheek. When he was ready to launch the arrow, he’d move his jaw backward to trigger the release. He’s worked with a company for months to develop a new hinge release aid.
“I’ve been working on a creative way to shoot a hinge release,” Stutzman said. “There’s a little bar that goes by my chin, and I activate it by pulling my right shoulder backward to make it shoot. I can relax and execute the release. During test shots with this release, my scores were better than ever.”
A Proud Moment
Though he often looks ahead to the next challenge to conquer, Stutzman reflects on his proudest accomplishment.
“Winning the silver medal in London would be the obvious choice for a career highlight,” he said. “But honestly, I’m most proud of making the final shoot-down in Louisville, where I shot 120 bull’s-eyes in a row.”
In Louisville, the world’s second-largest indoor archery tournament, archers shoot five arrows per end (round), for 120 total arrows and 600 possible points during two days of competition. Each day, the maximum possible score is 300, with 60 bull’s-eyes. Compared to The Vegas Shoot, where archers shoot 90 arrows in two days, the Louisville Indoor Nationals is a marathon.
The 2014 final shoot-down featured seven archers because no one missed the bull’s-eye. To determine the winner, officials had to measure whose arrow was nearest the center. Stutzman finished fifth.
“On the first day of competition, my scores beat Reo Wilde and Levi Morgan,” Stutzman says. “To me, stepping up and holding my own in a tough competition with able-bodied archers is even more significant than my Paralympic medal.”
For a guy who got into archery to hunt and prove anything is possible, Stutzman is off to a good start, and he’s hopeful he’ll make the 2016 U.S. men’s archery team.
Where does he hope archery takes him?
“Hawaii,” Stutzman said. “Archery already has taken me to a ton of cool places like London, Argentina and the Czech Republic, but I think there should be a tournament in Hawaii. I’d go there!”