Master to mentor: Stutzman helping India’s impressive armless archer

Sheetal Devi and Matt Stutzman

Sheetal Devi shone on the opening day of competition at the 2023 World Archery Para Championships in Pilsen.

The 16-year-old, who holds her bow with her foot in the style of famous Armless Archer Matt Stutzman, shot only eight points less than Indian teammate and world record breaker Sarita to seed fourth after the compound women’s qualifying round.

Together, the pair set a new doubles world record – and an impressive first day at her para worlds debut.

Sheetal is the only female archer without arms competing at these championships. She only started shooting 11 months ago, but the undoubtedly talented athlete is already shooting at a level that some would only dream of.

“I’m very excited. It’s a big competition,” said Sheetal, who aims to represent her country at the Paris 2024 Paralympics. “I know it’s a qualification tournament. And I feel great here.”

Devi lives with her family in the mountains India. She was born without arms but her life is that of a normal teenager. She goes to school – and now she trains.

“I never thought I could do archery,” she said.

One phone call to coach Kuldeep Kumar changed everything.

“I told her to come to the academy and see other people shooting,” he said. She progressed rapidly. “I took her to the national championships. She was excited and saw many para archers with different disabilities. She quickly got really interested in the sport.”

Sheetal Devi, Pilsen 2023 World Archery Para Championships

Devi is making her debut at the World Archery Para Championships this week, but it isn’t her first international event. She has good memories in the Czech Republic – she took silver at the European Para Archery Cup held across the country in Nove Mesto in May.

She’s been competing against able-bodied under-18s and winning medals domestically since.

Sheetal is one of three armless archers on the line in Pilsen. And she’s drawn the attention of the reigning World Archery Para Champion – and the trailblazer for the technique – Stutzman.

“It’s kind of hard to believe! There are probably six armless archers now! It’s amazing,” he said. “You only really see them at big events, so this our chance to help them as much as possible.”

Stutzman shot three arrows through Devi’s bow – and that was enough to lend his valuable insight.

“I could tell her coach that her peep needs to be bigger because the sizing of the peep and the scope is wrong,” he said. “He wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t shot her bow.”

He’s probably the only one who could help in such a manner.

Sheetal Devi, Matt Stutzman

Sheetal watched on as the legend of para archery shot her equipment.

“The first arrow went in the eight, second in the nine. Before the third shot, he said, ‘now I will shoot a 10’. And he shot a 10,” said coach Kuldeep. “She was watching very excited and was very happy.”

It was a priceless lesson with a master – maybe a mentor.

“Matt was the first armless archer, and it was the first time I met him,” she said. “I was very excited.”

It didn’t take long for her to deploy her new learnings to devastating effect. Her 689-point 72-arrow 50-metre qualifying round was world-class for an archer with arms, let alone one with out.

(Stutzman shot four points less, with 685.)

“I want her to be successful,” said Matt. “She wants to win really bad. It’s good she came because we can help her out.”

It was only last year in Dubai that there were multiple armless archers on the shooting line at the World Archery Para Championships. Now it’s normal. And, despite the inherent challenge, they’re performing.

“I can retire now and be okay with everything. I’ve done really well, but the fact that we have other armless archer is way more important. It builds archery,” said Stutzman. He assures that Paris will be his last Paralympic campaign.

“It proves anybody can shoot a bow. You don’t need arms do to that.”

“Bows just want to be shot.”