A few short weeks stand between Olympic athletes and the much-anticipated opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Olympics begin Aug. 5 and the Paralympics begin Sept. 7. The official torch lighting will usher in 29 days of nail-biting head-to-head and team-to-team action. These every-four-year extravaganzas also showcase Paralympians’ inspiring stories of courage, strength and determination.
Seven athletes earned spots on the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team during a three-part trials process consisting of qualifications, team-round simulations, and round-robin matches. Team selection officially concludes at the end of July. Let’s look at the seven archers who are jump-starting their Paralympic preparations.
Lisa Coryell, Wisconsin: W1 Women
Lisa Coryell hails from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and is ranked No. 10, despite the fact she didn’t start shooting archery until 2015. Fourteen months later she traveled to Germany to represent the United States at the 2015 World Archery Para Championships. It was her first international competition, and her first trip outside her home country.
“Not in my entire life would I think I would be wearing the colors of the United States with my name on the back,” Coryell told World Archery. “The whole flight, getting my equipment and then getting acclimated to new surroundings was a big thing for me.”
About nine months later, she earned a bronze medal at the 2016 Parapan Am Championships.
Coryell has used a wheelchair since around 2011. Although she’s battling a terminal illness caused by an anthrax vaccine, she inspires others with her bravery and determination.
“(The virus) caused an anthrax reaction, which is similar to ALS or MS, and I’m terminal,” she said. “It will continue until I can’t breathe anymore, but that day isn’t today, and I’m not going to worry about it. That arrow hasn’t been shot.”
Coryell ranks No. 10 in the world, and joins Fabry in the W1 division.
Kevin Polish, Pennsylvania: Compound Open Men
Pennsylvania native Kevin Polish, 32, won the men’s compound division of the Paralympic trials to punch his ticket to Rio. Polish first shot archery at age 3 and began competing in 3-D archery at 11. A car accident during his teens paralyzed him from the chest down, but Polish proved to be a formidable competitor. He took a break from competition the past five years, but his recent performance in the trials proved his world-class talent.
“I had some people tell me I probably couldn’t come back and do it since I’d been out of competing for so long, and so it is a really big deal,” he told USA Archery. “It means a lot to me to make the team.”
Andre Shelby, Florida: Compound Open Men
Andre Shelby of Jacksonville, Florida, served in the Navy for 18½ years, and will now represent his country in the Olympics. He began competing internationally in 2013, and is known as a fierce competitor in compound archery.
Shelby is No. 11 in the World Archery rankings, and boasts gold medals from the 2015 World Archery Para Championships, 2015 Parapan American Games, and 2016 Parapan American Championships in the team and individual categories. Shelby ranked fifth going into the Trials’ final round, but a strong mental attitude catapulted him to the silver medal.
Coach MJ Rogers said in a 2015 interview that Shelby’s attitude is one of his best assets. “He maintains his composure and intensity throughout the competition,” Rogers said. “This allows his shooting to shine.”
Matt Stutzman, Iowa: Compound Open Men
Matt Stutzman, the “Armless Archer,” joins Polish and Shelby on the U.S. Men’s Compound Open Team for his second Paralympic appearance. He earned individual silver at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Stutzman was born without arms, and learned archery when he took up bowhunting to feed his family. How does he do it? Easy. He holds the bow with his feet and uses a shoulder aid to draw the string, a technique that’s paved the way for two Guinness world records. Stutzman set the record for the farthest accurate archery distance in 2011, arrowing his target from 210 meters (230 yards), which snagged the record from an able-bodied archer. Four years later he did it again, breaking his own record and arrowing his target from 280 meters. That’s about three times the length of a football field, and six times the standard Olympic compound distance of 50 meters.
Stutzman is ranked No. 11 in the world. He boasts a silver medal from the London 2012 Paralympics, and gold medals from the 2016 Arizona Cup, 2015 World Archery Para Championships, and 2014 Pan American Championships.
Eric Bennett, Arizona: Recurve Open Men
It’s no “surprise” that this Surprise, Arizona, native earned a spot on the Paralympic team. He sealed the deal when taking gold at the World Archery Para Championships in August 2015. Despite his bye for the 2016 Olympic Games, Bennett gave his all during the Paralympic trials, and walked away with the gold medal in the recurve division.
“It feels really good to win the Trials,” Bennett told USA Archery. “I had a goal going into today to win it, regardless of the fact that I’d earned my spot already.”
Bennett got his first bow, a fiberglass model, at age 7 and accompanied his dad on practice shoots to hone his bowhunting skills. At 14, Bennett owned his first compound bow and bowhunted with his dad.
Bennett lost his right arm above the elbow in a car accident when he was 15, and didn’t shoot archery again until he was 20. He has bowhunted with a foot-held bow and a mouth tab, but now competes with a recurve bow and a mechanical release that fits on his shoulder.
Bennett ranks No. 3 in the world, and has his sights on a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Games.
“It’s important to me to win the Trials and to always be shooting my best,” Bennett told USA Archery. “I want to be on top here and in Rio, I’m looking to bring home the gold this year.”
Michael Lukow, Utah: Recurve Open Men
Michael Lukow of Salt Lake City joins Bennett on the men’s recurve team. Lukow began shooting archery in 2008, shortly after losing his left foot to an explosive while serving in Iraq with the Army. Archery coach and Vietnam veteran Michael “Skip” Dawson helped Lukow rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam, Texas.
“Learning archery, getting a prosthetic and learning to walk again all served to reinforce progress,” reported Chris Larson, correspondent for KSL.com. “Archery and rehab helped Lukow regain his balance, which was difficult due to the loss of some sensation in his badly damaged foot and his prosthetic foot.”
Lukow has a prosthetic foot and shoots standing up. A natural with a bow and arrow, Lukow earned a spot in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which helps athletes achieve their Olympic dreams. Lukow won an individual bronze at the 2016 Arizona Cup, gold at the 2016 Parapan Am Championships, and silver at the 2014 Pan American Championships. He finished second to Eric Bennett in the recurve division of the Paralympic Trials.
Jeff Fabry, California: W1 Men
Jeff Fabry is a three-time Paralympic archery medalist and will shoot for a fourth in the men’s W1 division in Rio. He lost his right arm and leg in a motorcycle accident at 15, and started shooting archery about nine years later. He shoots his compound bow using a mouth tab. He holds the bow in his left hand and uses his back molars to bite down on a nylon strap and draw the string with his mouth and jaw.
Fabry’s mouth-tab technique has inspired archers like Paralympic hopeful Samantha Tucker to try archery. Meanwhile, his gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics has U.S. archers craving even more and hoping for a winning streak. His 2012 win was Team USA’s first Paralympic title since 1984, and USA Archery’s first Olympic or Paralympic gold since 1996.
Can the world’s No. 11 para archer keep the Olympic winning streak going? We think so.
Paralympic team selections conclude at the end of July. Watch the full team chase their Olympic dreams at the Rio Paralympic Games, Sept. 7-18.