Matt StutzmanPara ArcheryNews

Humor Helped Matt Stutzman Fit In; Then Archery Made Him Stand Out

by Luke Hanlon

Matt Stutzman takes aim during the men's compound at the 2024 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials – Archery on May 13, 2024 in Newberry, Fla. (Photo by Team USA)

While driving to the airport a few weeks ago, Matt Stutzman needed to use the GPS on his phone to get there. Since he doesn’t have any arms, Stutzman balanced the phone between his head and right shoulder to pull up directions.

A police officer saw this and pulled Stutzman over.  

“He comes up to the door and he’s like, ‘Do you know why I pulled you over?’ Stutzman said. “He goes, ‘I noticed when you passed me that you were on your phone while driving at the same time.’”

Stutzman could understand that the cop may have been a bit bewildered. After all, Stutzman drives with his legs, using the right to steer and his left on the pedals. The officer then explained his rational.

“He proceeds to look me dead in the face and says, ‘I need to let you know that Iowa is a hands-free state,’” Stutzman said. “I’m like, ‘That’s what I’m doing sir.’”

Stutzman escaped without a ticket.

That kind of humor is something the three-time Paralympic archer has used as an icebreaker ever since he started school while growing up in Fairfield, Iowa.

“I realized with humor and comedy and saying things like that, that it broke the ice with people,” he said. “The second I say something and they laugh a little bit, it makes them feel more comfortable around me and I was able to fit in.”

Now 41, that comedic attitude has stuck with Stutzman, known as the “Armless Archer.” While humor came naturally to him, it took much longer for him to find a sport that he could compete in. Despite being born without arms, Stutzman’s parents always supported their son trying new things. That included basketball, bull riding, soccer, racecar driving and BMX.

It didn’t take long for Stutzman to realize a sport like basketball wasn’t for him. However, he had harsher lessons with some of the other options.

He thought he might have a slight advantage in soccer, but somehow he got called for a handball on occasion. One time he even received a red card because a ref thought he was intentionally hiding his arms inside his jersey.

He learned other lessons that were more painful than ironic. Once, while riding a bike down a hill, Stutzman was unable to use the brakes and crashed into a parked car, which led to a concussion. Another time when he tried to ride a bull, his brother tied him to the bull with a shirt and then prodded the animal with a pig shocker. That led to another concussion.

Matt Stutzman looks on during the men's compound at the 2024 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials – Archery on May 13, 2024 in Newberry, Fla. (Photo by Team USA)

Riding a bull without having arms might sound crazy to most people, but Stutzman never worried about the risks involved with trying any sport.

“At a young age that was my dedication,” he said. “When I wanted to do something, I was willing to risk it all to figure it out.”

Finding archery was much less of a physical risk for Stutzman and more of a personal desperation. With three sons to care for, Stutzman had trouble finding a job due to his disability. So, he taught himself how to shoot a bow (using his left foot to place the arrow in the bow, then holding the bow with his right foot and using a harness on his right shoulder to pull it back) to hunt and provide food for his family. 

Stutzman uses his left foot to place the arrow in the bow, then holds the bow with his right foot and uses a harness on his right shoulder to pull it back.

When he wasn’t hunting, Stutzman competed in local archery tournaments, which is where he realized he could make money with this skill. After a couple months of practicing eight hours a day, Stutzman competed in a regional tournament. While there, someone told him about the Paralympic Games, which Stutzman had never heard of before.

Stutzman qualified for the Paralympic Games London 2012, where he won silver — he keeps his medal in the glovebox of his car, which he said helps him get out of tickets — in the men’s individual compound open competition.

Looking back now, Stutzman described that regional tournament as his “Michael Jordan moment.”

“What did Michael Jordan accomplish?” Stutzman said. “He changed basketball as we know it. He got to take care of his family. … I get all that now through archery. I still achieved the same thing, just through a different avenue.”

Stutzman went on to compete at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, as well, and that the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, it is likely to be his last Paralympics.

Even though Stutzman’s Paralympic career is nearing its end, there’s clear evidence of the impact he’s made on his sport. Similar to how NBA players like Kobe Bryant and Anthony Edwards used Michael Jordan as inspiration for their basketball playing style, multiple Para archers have adopted Stutzman’s style of shooting a bow with their feet.

When he competed in London, Stutzman was the only archer in the competition without arms. Now, he said, there’s a chance that there could be four to five armless archers in Paris this summer.

“That’s the legacy of Armless Archer,” he said. “It’s not about me, Armless Archer, because even after I retire, they’re going to continue the awesomeness of armless archer to motivate the next generation and the next group of people.”