Matt Stutzman was one of the most recognizable icons of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, becoming known to 3.8 billion television viewers across the globe as America’s “Armless Archer.”
He’d hold the bow with his right toes and set his bow on his right shoulder with its standard-issued mechanical release aid.
He’d draw it back using his right foot, trigging it just underneath his jaw bone.
He’d then draw his jaw slightly backwards, using about as much pressure as it takes to click a computer mouse to release the bow with his mouth.
A silver-medal-winning shot in the individual compound in his Paralympic Games debut.
Since that moment, Stutzman’s publicity has skyrocketed, and with less than a year to go until the Rio 2016 Paralympics, his next public appearance might be etched into one of the most talked about record books.
Stutzman, born without arms and no medical explanation for it, will attempt to break his own Guinness World Record for the longest accurate archery shot on Dec. 9 at a BP-sponsored event at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in Dallas.
Just one day before his 33rd birthday, Stutzman will try to hit a target from 310 yards, which would be the longest Guinness-ratified distance by any athlete or individual in the world.
He still holds the current Guinness World Record of 230 yards, which he set back in 2011. Although many archers since then have successfully hit a target from longer distances — including Stutzman — no judges or officials have been present to make any potential new record official.
Because Stutzman wants to solidify his spot in the record books, he’s invited USA Archery judges and Guinness World Records staff to the event, and he will abide by all World Archery Federation rules and regulations.
Having been adopted at four months old and growing up in a family of hunters in Iowa, Stutzman has had strong eye-foot coordination and remarkable accuracy from a young age. But before becoming a Paralympian, he was collecting disability as he struggled to find a job to help support his three sons: Carter, Cameron and Alex.
Fans, photographers and journalists went wild at the London Games for Stutzman, whose armless figure easily won them over, and ever since he’s received loads of support.
A spectator approached him at London’s Royal Artillery Barracks, saying: “Let’s say I wake up in the morning and my back hurts. Well there’s no reason to complain about that anymore because I just witnessed some guy without arms shooting a bow.”
This year, the BP-sponsored archer has already won a silver medal at the Parapan American Games and a gold medal at the World Archery Para Championships. Now fresh off a Rio 2016 photo shoot with NBC, Stutzman admitted to feeling more pressure than ever with less than a year to go until his second Paralympic Games.
“Four years ago, no one knew who I was, so I felt like I was there to prove a point,” Stutzman said. “This time, everyone knows who I am, so my approach to Rio is a little different. I want to show them that I can be the best in the world and win a gold, and the training aspect of things is more about remaining calm and feeling my shots.”
Last year, Stutzman moved to Salt Lake City to train, though just recently he moved back to Iowa, where he’s forcing himself to take a couple of months off to physically reset himself before he enters pre-Games training mode in March.
“My right hip and knee take a lot of stress just because of how I have to force my body to hook my bow on it and push away,” said Stutzman, who also uses those same muscles on a daily basis to drive, eat and brush his teeth.
In the meantime, he’s found a job as a motivational speaker, sharing his story with large corporations and local schools across the country, with many listeners’ jaws dropping when he demonstrates his archery shot.
“They can’t believe that the impossible just happened,” Stutzman said.
“I now get the chance to give back a little bit to people who are willing to listen. It’s amazing when people come up to me afterwards and talk about how my story hit home for them and they’re going to try harder in school, in their business, or in what they’re doing.
“It makes me feel great, because I’m helping them with whatever they’re trying to accomplish.”
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.