“They were cheating – they were using their hands,” was a comment Olympic archer and Fairfield resident Matthew Stutzman made to people who attended the annual Washington Optimist banquet Wednesday regarding the other competitors in his first archery tournament.
The first thing Stutzman, who was born with no arms, told the audience was not to shy away from asking him questions. He said the fact he does not have arms is something that he does not let bother him or stand in his way. In a very light-hearted manner, he spoke of his experiences growing up. He talked about his desire to become a professional basketball player, a racecar driver, and eventually an archer. He also talked about the support he had received from his parents, who never treated him as though he was any different from anyone else.
During the 2012 Paralympics, when Stutzman won his silver medal, the target was 77 yards away. A target sat in the Washington High School varsity gym, much closer than the Olympic range. The 29-year-old Iowan lifted his target bow and inserted an arrow and drew the bow with his feet. He described his coach counting down the seconds for him to make the shot.
“I have been practicing with my feet for at least a couple of years,” he said, with a mischievous chuckle. “This half of the audience should be fine. The other half has signed the waiver, right?”
He didn’t fire the arrow until later in the presentation, but when he did, it hit dead center on the target.
For close to an hour, Stutzman spoke with the audience in an encouraging manner about some of the challenges he faced growing up. He explained that he had been put up for adoption because doctors had told his birth parents that he would need millions of dollars in care to live a normal life. A family who had asked for a child with no physical or mental handicaps adopted him.
“They had other children to choose from, and they picked me,” he said.
The family also didn’t allow Stutzman to act differently than anyone else. They encouraged him to adapt to not having arms and work out a way to overcome it.
Stutzman told the story of how he had wanted to be a basketball player.
“Not just any basketball player,” he said. “I wanted to play for the NBA.”
The next day, Stutzman’s father set up a basketball hoop, gave him a basketball, and told him to find a way to make his dream come true. Stutzman recalled practicing until he could beat most of the people in his school. He even demonstrated his basketball skills with the help of some Washington High School students.
He also recalled getting his start in archery. He watched videos of people demonstrating the proper form with a bow and then used his legs like arms.
Toward the end, he told the audience that he had only spoken of about 2 percent of the challenges that he had faced growing up. He said that everyone has their individual challenges they are facing. He also spoke of the willpower needed to motivate oneself to be the best and overcome the challenge.
“I surrounded myself with people or a team of people to help me get through the challenge,” he said. “People who are going to push me to face these challenges. I had parents at home that never treated me any differently. I’m sure everyone can think of someone who has helped them get through a challenge. You have to surround yourself with people that are going to make you believe you can overcome the challenges, and I promise you that you will overcome any challenge you will face.”