US Army veteran Michael Lukow on sport, attitude and Paralympic podium potential

Michael Lukow waited 10 years to climb the podium at the para world championships.

His life changed while serving in the armed forces, far away from home in Iraq, when he lost the bottom of his right leg and full use of his left. He picked up a bow in the wake of that injury.

“An old Vietnam veteran came to me by the rehab centre and introduced me to the sport,” he explains.

“I got injured on 30 January 2008. The convoy got hit by a bomb and it tore all kinds of holes. I instantly knew everything that was going on. I was conscious.”

He was only 21 when the accident happened.

“It wasn’t the end of the world. I joined the military at a time when we were at war so I kind of expected something could happen. In a way, I prepared for a few different scenarios. Unfortunately, that paid off,” he says.

“I actually recovered pretty quickly, mentally.”

Michael had a great athletic career and competed at All-State level both in basketball and track.

It took him just a year to enter the archery world and only two years to make his international debut in Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain. He remembers that well.

“Archery provided me with a new direction. Let me do something so I didn't retire and do nothing,” he says. “It started just after rehab. I was like, ‘get me out, get me moving’. Then I started getting better and better.”

He is still under the wings of the US Army. Lukow earned a place in a unit created in 1997 that consists of soldiers whose goal it is to participate in the Olympics.

“It’s the programme known as the World Class Athlete Program. I got good enough that they actually accepted me into that. Now I keep up with my military training and do competitions for the army,” he explains.

Drawing from his own experiences, Michael tries to help other soldiers.

He tells them that accidents often close some doors and open others. It’s the attitude that’s important.

“I do a lot of soldier outreach. Talking to them, helping them. The mental side is massive. Lots of freshly injured soldiers have a give-up face. They kind of shut down, don't want to do anything,” he says.

“It’s about getting them out of that so they are willing to learn and move forward.”

Lukow’s proud to represent the USA. There’s pride, he says, in wearing the flag – whether as a soldier or an athlete.

The 33-year-old had won nine medals in international competition before the 2019 World Archery Para Championships in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Among those, an individual title at the Para Pan Am Championships in 2016.

But in the Netherlands, he took his first world title – in the recurve men’s open team event.

“It’s a massive high. It feels absolutely amazing. It’s been a lot of work over many years,” he said at the time. “The team we’ve got is just phenomenal and we showed that today.”

The USA has two places qualified for the recurve men’s open category at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. (The team has three compound men’s open tickets, too.)

Lukow made his Paralympic debut in Rio in 2016. He was one of just a handful of para athletes to attend the test event for Tokyo in July 2019.

It took him 10 years to climb the world podium.

Will the Paralympic podium come in the 11th?