Shooting for the Stars
– Christine Rose Sebastian, FYBSc
I cannot describe how awestruck I was when I first heard of a mere 16-year-old girl who arches not with her hands but her legs! It is impossible to imagine someone managing that to do, let alone excelling at it. I assure you that the more you learn about this superstar, the more you will admire her determination and perseverance. It’s safe to say that I am a huge fan!
In case you aren’t aware of this incredible para-archer, allow me to introduce you to Sheetal Devi, the world’s first female armless archer.
Sheetal Devi at the 2022 Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, China
Image source: www.indiatvnews.com
Born in 2007, Sheetal grew up in the remote village of Loidhar in the Kishwar district of Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, she grew up without arms as she was born with a rare congenital disorder called phocomelia which causes malformation of arms and legs. She is the eldest daughter of her humble family, but due to her physical limitations, she could not help out with family chores much. All she could do was “just go to school”. However, that did not in any way serve as a hindrance in her legendary journey. Her life took a turn one day in 2019 when her athleticism was noticed at a youth sports event organised by the Indian army, the Rashtriya Rifles unit. Her excellence also led to the army supporting her education and providing medical assistance. Following that, army coaches, Abhilasha Chaudhary and Kuldeep Wadhwan noticed her confidence and decided to train her, a choice which we all know now was a worthwhile move! “I never thought I could do archery” Sheetal believed, but one phone call to her from coach Kuldeep and she was introduced to the world of archery.
Initially, the coaches were faced with the challenge of training a person without arms in archery. They tried to help her with prosthetics, but it unfortunately wasn’t possible in her case. However, given what we know about this young lady’s grit, it isn’t surprising that she learned about Matt Stutzman. Matt Stutzman is an American archer who uses his legs and feet for most of his activities, including archery. His most recent achievement was winning the gold medal in his event at the 2022 World Para Archery Championships! Sheetal now emulates his way of gripping his bow with the assistance of his foot. “Initially, I could not even lift the bow properly. But, after practicing for a couple of months it became easier.” Sheetal told the Indian Express.
With the love and support of her family and friends, paired with her undying willpower and the guidance from her coaches, within a short span of 11 months of training, Sheetal first participated in the 2023 World Archery Championship where despite falling sick just before the event, she won silver! This was followed by her participation at the 2022 Asian Para Games where she went on to win two gold medals in mixed doubles and women’s compound and a silver medal in women’s double compound!
Sheetal’s triumph has been applauded by everyone nationwide, including the prime minister. She returned home from Hangzhou, China (where the 2022 Asian Para Games were held) to her family and friends beaming with immense pride and joy.
On her exhilarating victory, Sheetal said, “I felt very good after winning 3 medals. When I started archery, I never thought I could do this. My coach motivated me a lot and gave me confidence that I could do archery. Today I gave my country 3 medals and I feel very happy.”
Sheetal Devi has just begun her thriving career as a para-archer and is already an inspiring influence on many, including myself! Her hard-working spirit, resolve, and positive attitude continue to be fascinating. I was able to notice her frame of mind that has taken her so far when she said, “No one is born with imperfection, flaw, or limitations. Just that one has to rekindle that spark and work hard towards following passion and accomplishing dreams. One should never lose hope. Always lean on hope and instil a positive attitude in yourself. With grit and zeal, one can achieve any success.” I hope that in times of need, I can remind myself of this wonderful quote by her. I know that it will help me redirect myself and take me a long way.
Sheetal Devi is one of the most excellent athletes out there in today’s world, as she has already proved. It is a true pleasure to watch the culmination of her persistence and hard work bear such prestigious fruits! As she continues to prepare to represent the country at the Paralympic games to be held in Paris next year, I hope for the best for her and look forward to her excelling in the future as she makes the nation proud.