Devi’s dream debut season highlights armless 16-year-old’s extraordinary talent
ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT is presented by WIAWIS.
Sheetal Devi admits that the last few months feel like a dream.
Just months after winning her first medals at the world para championships, she became the Asian Para Games Champion in Hangzhou. And she came just millimetres away from adding the continental championship title earlier this week, losing a tiebreak in the final.
Aside from the impressive results, Devi has amassed quite some attention, amazing people around the world with her extraordinary technique.
At 16, she is the first female para archer to compete internationally without arms.
“It’s unbelievable when I look one year back – where and how I was and where I am now. With every competition, I feel more confident,” she said, crediting her coach, Kuldeep Vedwan, for assisting with her progress.
Having been born with a condition called phocomelia and starting archery at the age of 12, her rapid ascendence this year has been stunning. And she’s issued a warning to her rivals that more is to come.
“I want to win a medal at the Paralympic Games and bring glory to my nation. This is my dream,” said the archer from the Loi Dhar village in the district of Kishtwar, in Jammu and Kashmir.
Devi’s potential was spotted at a camp in 2019.
The possibility of prosthetics was discussed initially but, aside from other reasons against them, Sheetal apparently said she quite enjoyed climbing trees with her feet.
So, instead, inspiration from Matt Stutzman – the original Armless Archer – has led to Devi becoming one of the most exciting para archery prospects in memory. She’s taken the custom technique pioneered by Stutzman and adapted to it perfectly.
Sheetal has been training intensively in Katra for the last year and hasn’t been home to see her family.
“I know everyone is waiting to meet me. I will visit them [soon],” she said after winning in Hangzhou.
“This journey has been good so far. I feel good, and my performances have been improving. I want to continue the momentum and make my country, my coach and my parents proud.”
Devi started the gold medal match at the Asian championships in Bangkok with three exceptional arrows – each landing in the X-ring, just four centimetres in diameter, 50 metres downrange.
Not only is her technique special – her competitive attitude is, too. She’s a winner, calm and focused…
…but no athlete wins every day. Sheetal and Nur Syahidah Alim took their gold medal match in Thailand to a shoot-off, which resulted in the Singaporean archer taking the title with a better 10.
“[Matt] told me, ‘you can do well, just think positive and look ahead’,” said Devi, recalling her meeting with Stutzman at the para championships in Pilsen.
“Never look back.”
Devi hasn’t looked back since first putting her foot in the bow, conquering every obstacle with her indomitable spirit and determination.
A phenomenal debut international season for this para archery sensation, who made the final at all four internationals at which she competed in 2023 and picked up a host of doubles medals as well, and this story has only just begun.