Individuals with visual impairments need not feel limited when it comes to archery. They can enjoy practicing archery and competing in tournaments using unique equipment that suits their needs. In fact, let’s look a few archers who enjoy getting out on the range and letting some arrows fly.
Janice Walth has been blind since childhood due to a disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which normally doesn’t show itself until the individual’s teen or adult years. Janice became intrigued by archery while accompanying her husband, Courtney, to his archery tournaments. They connected with the British Blind Sport Association, who walked Janice through the process of starting tactile archery. Courtney built her the archery equipment, and she’s been competing ever since.
Tactile archery is a method that uses a tripod instead of a traditional bow-mounted sight. The tripod is used to help the archers get their bearings. Instead of centering themselves with a sight, they touch the back of their extended hand (the hand holding the bow) to an adjustable bar and use special clip-like markers for their feet so they know where to set their body.
A spotter assists visually impaired archers with any safety issues and keeps track of the archers’ scores. Whenever Walth wants immediate reassurance, she sets a milk carton over the bulls-eye so she can hear the arrow hit instantly. Beyond that, visually impaired archers don’t receive any other assistance with their shot. They are not told whether to lower their aim or if their bow is crooked. They adjust their form and take the shot, just like any other archer.
In a 2015 interview, Walth said she’s had to make adjustments because of her vision that a seeing archer doesn’t need to make. One issue is the natural sway of the body.
“Because my bow-sight is mounted on a tripod and not on my bow, if I sway forward onto my toes, the shot goes way left,” Walth said. “If I sway back onto my heels, the shot goes way right. My sway isn’t big, but even a slight sway makes a big difference.”
The other issue is knowing when the bow itself is tilting. Both are problems seeing archers can correct immediately, but this adjustment takes practice for visually impaired archers.“Archery is not about how well you see, but how well you execute your shot,” she said in an article by News Review. “Form is what brings legitimacy to the sport, and that legitimacy is important to me.”
Walth was the first visually impaired archer to ever compete at the U.S. Outdoor Nationals in 2005. She later went on to set five world records at the 2007 Paralympic Archery World Championships. She recently took fourth place at the 2019 World Archery Paralympic Championships.
Mark Schrand is a fellow USA archer who lost his sight after a piece of shrapnel from a roadside bomb hit his eye in Iraq. He lost sight in the damaged eye immediately, and eventually started to lose sight in his other eye. He now counsels other veterans about participating in competitive sports. .
Schrand was an avid bowhunter growing up and reclaimed his passion for archery after four years of rehabilitation. He now works with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. “CAF gives me the opportunity to see no limits and reach the pinnacle of my sport,” Schrand said.
Schrand competes in the visually impaired division that does not need to wear blackout lenses or blindfolds. He placed fourth in his division at the 2019 World Archery Paralympic Championships and has taken home gold at other competitions.
Steve Prowse of Great Britain has the same degenerative eye disease as Walth. He took home the gold at the 2019 World Archery Paralympic Championships, making it his third World title.
Prowse competes in the same division as Schrand in world competitions. Walth and Schrand only compete against each other a couple times a year, but they love the challenge of going head-to-head in national tournaments.
Prowse was asked by World Archery what he thinks makes the perfect archer. “I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect archer,” he said. “We all have strengths and many things that we want to improve on.A great archer, in my opinion, is one who recognizes the things that they do well, but more importantly understands areas that they have to strengthen. It’s not always related to technique; many archers appear to neglect the psychological aspects of archery. Many can put arrows in the 10-ring in practice, few manage it in competition.”
Archery is as much a mental game as a physical one.
According to Prowse, when he’s purchasing equipment, he focuses solely on how it feels when he shoots. “As I am visually impaired, I do not have the visual aspects overriding the physical feel of the shot,” Prowse said. His senses dial in on how the bow responds to him, which is incredibly important when choosing equipment.
Visual impairment doesn’t have to keep you from participating in archery. Once you get set up with your equipment, you’re competing alongside every other archer, just the same. These archers are proof that archery is an activity that brings people together.
If you’re interested in getting started, visit your local range and find out what they have to offer.