By Toby Davis
LONDON, Sept 2 (Reuters) – If you thought archery required a steady hand then American Paralympian Matt Stutzman is ready to shoot an arrow through your preconceptions.
The 29-year-old from Iowa was born without arms, but driven by a desire to prove people wrong and “put food in the freezer”, he took up the sport and now stands just two victories away from winning gold at the London Games.
He has rightly drawn gasps of amazement from the terraces at the makeshift archery arena at the Royal Artillery Barracks as the only person in the competition shooting without arms.
He has a remarkable technique in which he grasps the bow with his foot and draws back the string with the aid of a hook on his shoulder and releases the arrow using his mouth.
Such is the complexity of the maneuver, he is unsurprisingly the only archer he knows in the world who has his disability.
“When you think of archery you don’t think of a guy without arms shooting,” he told Reuters in an interview after he beat countryman Dugie Denton 6-4 to progress to the final four on Sunday.
“In fact even now, in the Olympic village people think I am a swimmer or something of that sort and they are like, ‘wow, you are an archer, what?’.”
Like many young men from America’s mid-west, Stutzman is a keen hunter and archery was a natural progression from shooting.
“I picked up a bow about two-and-a-half years ago and it was because I hunt and that is how we provide for our families,” he said.
“We shoot dear and stuff like that. I realize with a bow you could get more animals and get more food for your freezer.”
As he steps off the range, he is surrounded by a German film crew who are making a documentary in which he features. “If you think this is impressive, you should see him shoot a machine gun,” the director whispers as he approaches.
Born in Kansas City in 1982, Stutzman was put up for adoption at four months old. It was January the following year when Leon and Jean Stutzman took him home as their son.
He was raised on a farm in Kalona, Iowa and educated at a local Christian school where his dad was principal.
His family, however, were resolute in their determination that they would not pander to his disability.
“My parents are wonderful people and they have molded me into the person I am today,” he added. “They never catered to me and they just wanted me to try my hardest to figure something out first.
“They realized that once I got out in the world, if they had modified the house and I went to Walmart and it was not modified then I would to know what to do.
“So they have always taught me to learn how to handle situations.”
Stutzman is stubbornly determined and admits he is attracted to things that people think he cannot do.
He has a driver’s license for a pedal operated car and built his first vehicle at 14 using just his feet.
He boasts that there is a video on YouTube of him changing brakes that has attracted more than 200,000 views.
“That is my personality,” he says. “I always joke that the best way to get me to do something is tell me I couldn’t do it.”
When he was growing up there was little he could not do, but admits they were a few things he should not have done.
He was a bit of a tearaway and, according to his mum, had several brushes with the law.
“Everybody does things they shouldn’t when they are younger,” he said before refusing to elaborate on the nature of his misadventures. “I did some stuff that I shouldn’t have done and that is all in the past now. I made peace with what happened and I am moving forward.”
His family are in London to cheer him on including his wife Amber and sons Carter and Cameron. They will be in the crowd to see him face Spain’s Guillermo Gonzalez Rodriguez in a make-or-break semi-final on Monday.
“My whole goal being here is that if I could just inspire one person positively then that would be huge and I would be satisfied with that,” he said.
“I have had more than one person say I am an inspiration so I have accomplished that and the next goal is just trying to win a medal for the country.”