‘Archery Addict’ Eric Bennett Sees A Path To His Fifth Paralympics Via The Parapan American Games
by Alex Abrams
Eric Bennett was surprised when he woke up on Nov. 4.
For his 50th birthday, Bennett’s wife, Rachel, asked his friends to write personal notes to him. She then posted the notes around their house for him to find when he got out of bed.
In some sports, the best hope for a 50-year-old might be to hang on as a coach, official or some other non-competitive role. That’s not necessarily true in archery, though. And as a four-time Paralympian who continues to chase his dream of someday winning a gold medal in archery, Bennett’s not ready to hang up his bow and find a new hobby.
That day may never come for him.
While Bennett has told his family that he’s retiring after the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, there’s always a chance he could make a comeback. And even if he stays retired, he loves the sport too much to quit it completely.
“The best way I can describe it is that I’m an archery addict. It’s who I am. I like to shoot,” Bennett said as he waited to board a flight to Santiago, Chile, to compete in the 2023 Parapan American Games. “You turn around and you look back, and you’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve had a chance to do some really cool stuff.’”
Bennett said he has tried to walk away from competing at the Paralympic level on several occasions, but the sport has called him back each time. The Surprise, Arizona, native is now in a position where he could reach another milestone only a few weeks after his 50th birthday.
Archers can qualify for the 2024 Paris Paralympics based on their results at the Parapan American Games. With a strong showing in Santiago, Bennett could secure his spot at his fifth Paralympics — which would be an accomplishment he admitted he couldn’t have imagined when he got started in the Para archery.
The archery competition began Nov. 19 in Santiago. Bennett competes for individual recurve gold on Nov. 22, while the mixed recurve team quarterfinals (and medal rounds if they advance) take place the day prior.
“I want to go to Paris. I want my family to see me shoot. It’s definitely on my mind in terms of that goal,” Bennett said. “But that’s not what I’m thinking about in prep for (the Parapan American Games).
“So if I think about that and think about those things that are outside of my control, it’ll affect my shooting and ultimately hurt my chances of making that goal. So right now, I’m focused on one arrow at a time, shooting the best possible arrows I can shoot and put up the best scores that I can. And I know if I do that, because I know what I’m capable of, I will win gold and I will secure my spot.”
Bennett and other members of the U.S. Para Archery Team recently spent several days at a training camp in Chula Vista, California, preparing for the Parapan American Games. While there, they tried to simulate different aspects of the tournament — including individual elimination rounds and mixed team rounds — so they knew what to expect in Santiago.
The American Para archery team is led by Bennett and two-time Paralympian Kevin Polish, a native of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania.
Bennett has worked as a physics and engineering teacher for 22 years. Coincidentally, he taught future four-time Olympic archer Brady Ellison in physics during his junior year of high school in the early 2000s.
As a teenager, Ellison was already making a name for himself in the tight-knit Arizona archery community. Bennett and Ellison knew each other, and they ended up in the same classroom because Ellison’s family lived in the North Phoenix school district where Bennett taught.
“The interesting thing about that is I actually only had him for the first semester because he left to go be full-time resident athlete in Chula (Vista) beginning of the second semester,” Bennett said.
Ellison has gone on to win seven world titles as well as two Olympic silver medals and a bronze in archery.
There’s a chance that Ellison could compete in his fifth Olympics in Paris, followed by Bennett shooting at his fifth Paralympics a few days later. Like teacher, like student.
Regardless of what happens, Bennett insists the Paris Paralympics will be his “swan song.” He’ll continue to shoot and compete in archery tournaments, just in smaller events around Arizona.
Bennett joked he’s now old enough to shoot in the “old-guy division.” But he’s not ready to close the door entirely on him competing at the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympics at age 54.
“I won’t be actively training and pushing and being on the (U.S.) team and all the travel. I won’t be doing all the stuff I’m currently doing to maintain my scores and ability,” Bennett said. “But if I can somehow blow the dust off my bow and shoot a halfway decent score and somehow that gives me a chance to go to L.A., I would love to shoot on my home soil. That would be amazing.”