Matt Stutzman placed a memento from the Rio Paralympics on his shelf in his Iowa home. Not to remember a celebratory moment, but to remind him of what must never happen again.
Four years ago, Stutzman, profiled across major media as the “Armless Archer,” went to the Games looking to improve upon his compound silver medal from the London Paralympics.
But Stutzman, after placing fourth in the initial ranking round, was stunned in the round of 16 by Brazilian Andrey Muniz de Castro, who was 20th in the ranking round and 33rd at the 2015 Worlds.
Castro upset Stutzman by one point. Of all his arrows, Stutzman remembers his last shot, where he scored an eight out of ten.
“Up to that point, he hadn’t shot anything out of the gold,” coach M.J. Rogers said, referring to the two innermost rings on the target. “So, nines and tens, they were just a given. All he needed to shoot was a nine, and then the eight popped up.”
After Stutzman did media interviews, he was handed his arrows. He noticed a crack in the final arrow’s nock and was convinced the equipment malfunction occurred before he used it. He kept the arrow and nock and now sees it regularly at home.
The slightest error can have a significant impact, given arrows are shot 200 miles per hour from 50 meters away.
“Never had one break like that,” Stutzman said. “It caused it to obviously not go where it was meant to go.”
Rogers said he bears responsibility for not inspecting the arrows before passing them from a runner to Stutzman that day in Rio.
“If I would have done to his arrows what I currently do with every arrow that I retrieve with any of the [archers], I would have noticed it,” he said. “In a big way, it’s my fault.”
Stutzman didn’t blame Rogers, who remains his coach.
“We put in a process to prevent that from happening again,” said the 37-year-old Stutzman, who Rogers believes is the only Paralympic medal hopeful who shoots with his feet. “What I’ve learned is I need to check them, especially at that level, after every shot and not just at the beginning of the event.”
Stutzman spoke to promote his appearance in “Rising Phoenix,” a film about the history of the Paralympic movement that premieres on Netflix this week. It also tells the stories of nine current Paralympians, including Stutzman, who was born without arms, adopted and then climbed to the top of a sport that relies on upper-body strength.
“Everybody who watches this is hopefully going to be in for a life-changing experience,” the father of three said.
What happened in Rio helped spark a major change in Stutzman’s life, too. He lost around 50 pounds since those Games, hiring a personal trainer and nutritionist.
“If I’m going to be a professional athlete, I need to play the part,” he said. “I can shoot all day without getting tired.”
It paid off at the 2019 World Championships. Stutzman was part of a U.S. men’s team that broke a world record in the ranking round (though they did not earn a medal). He also earned a first individual world medal, a bronze, competing on a rain-soaked platform that forced him to reset his chair after shots, Rogers said.
“I can only imagine what whole ‘nother year of me eating right — shooting and mentally training as well — will add to what I’ve got going into the next Games,” Stutzman said.
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