Paris 2024: Matt Stutzman, the armless archer guest of honor at Paralympic Day

Sitting on a stool, Matt Stutzman adjusts his compound bow, the handle held firmly between the toes of his right foot

Paris 2024: Matt Stutzman, the armless archer guest of honor at Paralympic Day

Sitting on a stool, Matt Stutzman adjusts his compound bow, the handle held firmly between the toes of his right foot. Then the American, nicknamed Armless Archer, pulls back his torso, straightens his leg and, using a harness passed around his shoulders, tightens the string of his weapon. He tilts his head slightly to the right, aims at the target and rests his jaw on a small hook that holds the arrow nock. A sharp clicking noise: the projectile flew from the arc at more than 300 km/h to crash into the target located about ten meters from the shooter at the back of the room.

Astonishment among the children – speechless – at the Louis de Funès comprehensive school in Paris, in front of whom the Paralympic vice-champion in London in 2012 performed a demonstration, Wednesday October 4.

A few minutes earlier, Matt Stutzman had already impressed the schoolchildren in their class by signing autographs and tying his sneakers with his feet, explaining how he drives his car or holds his cutlery when eating. In short, how he learned through hard work and perseverance – he trains eight hours a day – to deal with the constraints of his disability and lead an (almost) ordinary daily life. Sunday October 8, Matt Stutzman will also be one of the guests of honor at the second edition of Paralympic Day, organized at Place de la République in Paris.

“There’s nothing I can’t do.”

The 40-year-old athlete was born without arms in Kansas. Pushed by his adoptive parents, he tried different sports before discovering archery late in life, in 2010, “to bring home food”, as he likes to repeat. He made his international debut the following year, and then had only one idea in mind: to become the best archer in the world. His silver medal on the banks of the Thames was not enough for him. Until, in December 2015, he hit an arrow from more than 280 meters away. The armless archer finally held a world record, which still places his name in the pantheon of archery.

Today, Stutzman hopes, more than an Olympic medal at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, that his personal journey inspires and helps change society's view of people with disabilities. Exactly the message that Games organizers hope to relay between now and the opening ceremony. “If I can influence even one person through my performance, whether I lose or win, that will already be a victory for me,” assures the American, who appears in Rising Phoenix, a documentary about the The story of the Paralympic movement produced in the summer of 2020 by Netflix.

Father of three boys, the para-archery world champion in Dubai in 2022 also knows that recognition requires raising awareness among children. Bet won. Everyone in the school in the 8th arrondissement of Paris couldn't believe what the archer is capable of doing without arms. Like Sasha, 8 years old, whose teacher often criticized her for “writing with her feet”, who was able to see that morning – “it was incredible” – the dexterity of Matt Stutzman with a pencil stuck between his toes . Or Riham, “impressed”, who promises to follow the American’s journey in less than a year at the Invalides competition site.

“There’s nothing I can’t do. Which means that if I can do it, you can too,” he told the children who did not hesitate, with the candor of their age, to ask the archer questions. , before learning archery.

On Paralympic Day, the American will not shoot an arrow for safety reasons, but there is no doubt that his words and the resilience he has shown throughout his life will touch the heart. “Archery changed my life,” swears Armless Archer. Today he would like the Paralympic Games to do the same for millions of people with disabilities.