Archery

Matt Stutzman, the Armless Archer, motivated by Rio equipment malfunction

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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.

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Shooting star: Archer Brady Ellison aims at Tokyo gold with arm pain gone

Brady Ellison
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In between remodeling his archery workshop and raising piglets, Brady Ellison shoots about 100 arrows a day on his custom-built range.

That’s not very high volume for him. He’s scaled way back with the coronavirus pandemic postponing the Tokyo Games until next summer and his season on hold.

This is the promising part: No shooting pain.

A little while back, the three-time Olympic medalist felt searing discomfort through his right arm whenever he released an arrow.

Doctors couldn’t solve it. He couldn’t shoot through it. He nearly quit and went to work at a local copper mine in Arizona.

Now gold in Tokyo is back in the picture.

His comeback will be highlighted in an upcoming documentary and features a Hollywood-esque twist: A natural healer in Slovenia helped alleviate his pain to the point where he became the world champion.

“I went from looking for jobs and quitting archery to believing I’m going to win in Tokyo,” the 31-year-old Ellison said in a phone interview from his six-acre property in Globe, Arizona, where he’s waiting for the season to resume. “I now have more drive than I’ve ever had.”

Usually around this time of year, Ellison is shooting 300 arrows each day on a range he built with a tractor and features 50- and 70-meter targets.

Instead, he’s scaled back the shooting and is taking care of house projects. He rebuilt the wood floor in his workshop, which also serves as his indoor facility. It’s actually two sheds pushed close together in which he simply opens the doors to both in order to shoot.

He’s also tending to a litter of piglets and squeezing in some bow fishing.

Anything to pass the time until competitions start back up. He’s not feeling the crunch even though he relies on events for about 70% of his income. Over the years, he’s been financially savvy with his earnings.

“I’ve always said that if I get hurt or anything, I want to still be able to pay all my bills and lose nothing if I have to go get a job at McDonald’s,” he said.

Ellison sees himself competing through the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, if not longer.

Especially now, with his arm back to feeling better.

Shortly after capturing an Olympic bronze medal in the individual event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, along with silver during the team competition, Ellison began experiencing pain in one of his fingers.

Steadily, it grew worse as the pain radiated from his fingertips through his arm.

“Felt like bolts of lighting when I shot,” he said.

The discomfort persisted into 2017 and ’18. He consulted medical experts and hand specialists.

“The doctors, they pretty much just all told me to quit,” said Ellison, who also earned a silver in the team event at the 2012 London Games.

His wife, Toja, competes in archery for Slovenia and heard of a natural healer back home. The healer specialized in helping those with thyroid conditions, which Ellison has dealt with and for which he takes medication. He went in the fall of 2018 for that reason.

He never mentioned his arm concerns.

First consultation: “He told me that I had an injury in my right hand,” Ellison said.

Ellison said the process was simple. The healer put his hands on Ellison’s arm/hand and he almost instantly felt relief.

“Three days later I shot more arrows in a single day than I have in three years,” said Ellison, who still visits the healer when he and his wife return to Slovenia. “No pain.”

In 2019, Ellison turned in a memorable season that included a world title and a return to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for the first time since March 2013.

“In the back of your head, you’re a little afraid (the pain) could happen again,” Ellison said. “So you make every day count while you can. I didn’t take anything for granted like before.”

An image of Ellison went viral on social media during the Rio Games. A picture of a bearded Ellison ran alongside a shot of actor Leonardo DiCaprio from the movie “The Revenant.”

The resemblance was spot on. He was asked almost as much about that as his medals.

“All of a sudden people just showed up at the field and I’m asked, ‘Hey, what do you think about the comparisons with him?’” recalled Ellison. “And then I looked it up and I’m like, ‘OK, this really became a thing.’ It’s all fun.”

Now, there’s even more in common with DiCaprio: Both appear in movies.

World Archery followed Ellison last season for a film titled “Believe: Brady Ellison.” He hasn’t seen an edited version, but has watched the trailer of the documentary due out this summer.

He gives it a thumbs up.

“Hopefully it will get a lot of hits since no sporting events are going on right now,” Ellison said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing it.”

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Brady Ellison is first U.S. world champion in archery since 1985

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Brady Ellison, the top-ranked U.S. archer for much of the last decade and once No. 1 in the world, finally has a global championship.

Ellison, a 30-year-old with three Olympic medals (but none gold) became the first American to win an individual world title in archery’s Olympic discipline — recurve — since 1985 in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, on Sunday.

“I’ve always wanted it so bad, and then just I’d get there and make a little mistake and go out in the quarters and don’t give myself the chance,” Ellison said, according to USA Archery. “I shot good here, I’ve been shooting good all year and it just hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ll start crying soon.”

Ellison needed a tiebreaking shoot-off in the final against Malaysian Khairul Anuar Mohamad to grab that first gold. He delivered a perfect arrow for a 10-8 win.

Ellison entered the 2012 London Games as the world’s top-ranked archer but was eliminated in the round of 32. He helped the U.S. to team silver earlier in the Games. Ellison came to Rio ranked sixth in the world and left with individual bronze (missing the gold-medal match via semifinal shoot-off) and another team silver.

The last American to earn an Olympic archery title was Justin Huish, the ponytailed, backwards-cap wearing phenom who swept individual and team titles at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

“Now I need that Olympic gold medal,” Ellison said, according to USA Archery. “And I’m going to get it next year.”

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