TOKYO (AP) — Matt Stutzman has no arms. He was born that way. But he has — pardon the pun — a disarming sense of humor.
The American is known as the “Armless Archer,” a silver medalist from the 2012 Paralympics who will be among the favorites for gold at this year’s Tokyo Paralympics.
Asked in a visit to Tokyo what sport he would pursue if he weren’t an archer, Stutzman replied: “I want to be a champion arm wrestler.”
This from a guy who has no arms, but only small stumps protruding from his shoulders.
“I want people to know that I’m just a normal guy, and I like to laugh. And I like to make people laugh,” Stutzman said in an interview with The Associated Press.
If normal means commonplace, or ordinary, that’s not Stutzman. A better word is “extraordinary.”
He uses humor to put people at ease, or poke fun at misconceptions they have about disabilities.
“The other day I was walking up a flight of stairs and I passed a guy and he says: ‘Whoa, how are you doing that?’ I mean, I have legs. Because I don’t have arms people sometimes assume I can’t do anything — ever. Including walking, apparently, or thinking.”
Stutzman can do everything he says, except — and here comes the humor again — wash dishes, vacuum or change diapers. Actually he can do those chores, too, but jokes about his disability as a way out.
With no arms or hands, he has learned to use his feet. He shaves with his feet, drives a car with his feet, and eats with his feet. In fact, he said he can also use chopsticks with his feet.
“I’m not that efficient,” he said, much like any chopstick beginner.
His house where he’s raising three sons as a single father has no modifications, which is the way his father and mother — Leon and Jean Stutzman — raised him when they adopted him at 13 months.
He also shoots a bow and arrow with his feet. He sits in a chair, uses a strap around his chest that lets him grab the arrow. To draw back the bow, he pushes his leg away from his chest. Then sets himself and releases.
He has beaten all comers — archers with disabilities and the rest — and holds a record for the longest, most accurate shot by an archer — 310 yards. He has also hit targets at 500 yards, and even 800 yards — though these are not officials records.
Unable to find work and trying to support a family, Stutzman went deer hunting about a decade ago to put food on the table for his family in Fairfield, Iowa, in the southeastern part of the state. It was his early experiment with the bow.
“People at the time would say if I had arms they would hire me,” he explained. “I’d say, I can’t just grow arms. Just give me a chance to show what I can do.”
He took to the bow so well that by 2012 he had won a Paralympic silver medal in London. He came up short in Rio de Janeiro, partly because of a defective piece of equipment. But he’s become increasingly famous, picking up sponsors and motivational speaking engagements.
“Archery changed my life,” he said. “I went from living off of Social Security, which was $600 a month, to now I don’t need Social Security. I can take care of my kids. Now people know who I am. This is bigger than archery now.”
Stutzman said he lost about 60 pounds (about 27 kilograms) since Rio and is training harder than ever to get the gold medal.
“I could live without it, but kind of like redemption a little bit,” he said.
What really matters now is the way he can reach people, who recognize him because of the Paralympics and intense media coverage.
“My main focus is people who don’t have a physical disability, and kids,” he said. “People who think they have it rough and you look at them and they are completely fine. That gets under my skin because I have an excuse to sit at home and do nothing. But you are perfectly fine and you are sitting on the couch complaining. That’s dumb.”