Adaptive Archery, Part 2: Working with Para-Archers

After adapting your shop, you’re ready to host para-archery programs.
Photo Credit: ATA

Author: Taylor Walston

In Part 1 of this adaptive archery series, we discussed the merits of adapting your shop to accommodate para-archers, and how to do so. Once you’ve adapted your shop, you’re ready to offer lessons, and possibly leagues and competitions for para-archers. Building an adaptive program requires communication and tuning into each archer individually.

Carlo Uglow set a new record in his category at the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals. Photo Credit: SportsNSpokes

Competition Exposure

Roger Koss, S3DA Texas state coordinator and coach for Kinetic Kids San Antonio Xtreme S3DA Para Club, is currently preparing his club to travel to tournaments across Texas where they will have opportunities to shine.

Kullen Flores- Medrano, 9, Carlo Uglow, 12, Madison Oliver, 13, and Sydney Mosley, 15, competed at the Texas Regional Games in May, and placed first or second in their categories. Flores-Medrano and Mosley successfully defended their respective first- and second-place 2018 rankings.

Carlo recently shattered a record at the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals just three coaching sessions after trying archery for the first time at the Texas Regional Games. His score of 501 was 31 points higher than the previous record, set in 2015.

Carlo was already competing in the javelin and wheelchair basketball before adding archery to his repertoire. He didn’t own a bow at the time, so he broke the record using a loaner. He also took first place in javelin at the tournament.

Kullen has long watched his uncle, Team USA para-archer Jeremy Velez, competing, so his interest started at home. Flores-Medrano wears an eye patch, which makes him feel like a superhero. “I feel like Thor,” he said.

Kullen is a great example of why representation is so important. When para-archers see themselves represented in films and professional tournaments, they’re inspired to try the sport.

Koss has also been assisting team USA para-archer Jason Tabansky for nearly three years. Tabansky was a bowhunter, but never a serious archer until recently. He met Velez at the Valor Games, where Velez recognized Tabansky’s talent and encouraged him to keep shooting. Tabansky was already hooked on archery, but never thought he would earn a spot with Team USA. With support from Koss and Velez, Tabansky claimed that honor.

Koss didn’t hide his pride when recounting how Tabansky made the U.S. team. “He was at Outdoor Nationals, and called me from the line,” Koss said. “As soon as his qualifying score was confirmed, he stopped everything and called me to tell me he’d qualified.”

Both archers truly care about the other’s success. Archery forged their brotherhood. You can foster that sense of community in adaptive programs at your shop.  


Competitive Options

National competitions offer specific para-only divisions and most others let para-archers and “able-bodied” archers compete in the same rounds. “At first I was worried what people would think,” Tabansky said. “People would look at me because I was different. I would feel the disconnect when I waited at the line while everyone else immediately went and scored. Get past what people are going to think. You’re always going to have someone saying something. Just push through it.”

And although recognition for hard work is rewarding, being put on a pedestal has its challenges. “It’s hard to be an inspiration,” Tabansky said. “I receive all of these messages from people telling me how they’re inspired by me, and I’m grateful, but it’s a lot of pressure. That kind of pressure cracks some people.”

Tabansky feels the responsibility of being a public figure, but he focuses on using his platform to help others. He takes phone calls or emails from athletes or pro shops wanting to learn about getting into adaptive sports.

Koss is equally open to sharing insights into his programs. By helping others, they help themselves. After all, good deeds trigger serotonin in our bodies, which unleashes a rush of happiness. Although some think it’s selfish to help others to make yourself feel better, Koss and Tabansky think it’s more selfish to keep their knowledge to themselves.


DASA archer Elizabeth Burton shares why she loves archery and lets an arrow fly. Photo Credit: M.J. Rogers  

Study Other Programs

Kelly Behlmann, a physical therapist, founded the Disabled Athletes Sports Association in 1997 to help children she worked with participate in programs that focus on what these children cando, and not dwell on their disabilities.

“Athletes with physical disabilities (often hear) all the things they CAN’T do,” Behlmann said. “At DASA, we focus on what they cando and adapt the things they cannot do.”

The program teaches confidence and independence. “Opening your shop to adaptive archery programs promotes inclusiveness and diversity, and it could truly make a difference in the athletes’ lives,” Behlmann said. That confidence also transfers into the archers’ everyday tasks.

Behlmann acknowledges that shop owners often ask “what-ifs” and lack knowledge about adaptive archery. Still, it’s easier than it might seem. “Adaptive sports are about trial and error, and finding how to make the athlete the most successful,” he said. “In some cases, adapting equipment can be done with duct tape or other household items. It starts with equipment you use in your current programs.”

Koss never assumes what para-archers can or can’t do. “I teach them that they can do it,” he said. “Then, I patiently assess their skills and let them show me what they can do. They’re not going to learn if they don’t try.”

Once the archers show what they can do, you can better manage expectations. That allows a coach to set realistic goals and challenge archers without pushing too far.

M.J. Rogers, Paralympic archery coach, works with archers with intellectual and physical disabilities through DASA’s program in St. Charles, Missouri at the Missouri Bowhunter’s Club. He saw a need for developmental and rehabilitative coaching, rather than strictly recreational. Rogers notes that archery is listed as a top-three sport at each disabled sports chapter across the United States.

Rogers said working with archers in those programs puts him more in tune with their emotions. He can more easily detect the defense mechanisms able-bodied archers use to hide theirs. “They teach me how to be a better coach,” Rogers said. “We’ve started calling able-bodied archers ‘TABs,’ which stands for ‘temporarily able-bodied.”

In other words, all archers are biding time until they need adjustments and modifications. Eventually, their bodies don’t work the same, either.

The DASA program offers lessons and games of archery tag to get children excited about the sport, while also teaching safety and technique. It lets the archers have fun while fulfilling their developmental needs.

Sydney Mosley practices at a Kinetic Kids San Antonio Xtreme Para Club session in Boerne, Texas. Also pictured is Shannon Anderson who assists with the program alongside her brother, William. Photo Credit: ATA

Safety and Adapting

Para-archers need adaptations, which differ little from adapting bows for other beginning archers. “Adapting equipment for a disabled archer is no different than adapting a bow for someone who can’t shoot a 60-pound draw weight,” Rogers said. “You lower the weight, get them a smaller bow and/or different arrows.”

Beyond what’s necessary for their adaptations, para-archers should be coached the same as able-bodied archers. “They don’t want to feel like a sideshow.” Koss said. “It’s good to point out success, but don’t praise your para-archers more than your able-bodied archers.”

Rogers teaches all archers how to override what the brain is telling the bow arm to do while shooting. “When the brain says to release the string, the bow arm immediately wants to stop what it’s doing,” Rogers said. “Give your bow hand a different task by keeping your thumb pointed at the target while you release the arrow, so you finish the shot balanced on both sides.”

Koss recalls coaching an autistic archer who thought shooting the bow would hurt, and said so before every shot. Koss learned the archer’s communication style, and realized he needed to shoot an arrow himself before the archer shot.

It’s normal for new archers to worry about injury, but archery injuries are few and minor. The most common injury involves the shoulder, and that’s only severe if you’ve been practicing improper form for years. Rogers said spreading the draw weight evenly across your back and shoulders avoids injury.

He notes that when children start archery, the parent usually fears injury more than the child. Allow parents to remain within earshot for the first lesson to ensure you relay proper information to them that they can reinforce at home.

Once para-archers know safety basics and are properly equipped, there’s no limit to their potential. Consider partnering with a hospital, other para-archers, local Veterans Affairs rehabilitation centers, and/or other adaptive archery programs to offer programs at your shop. You’ll benefit everyone while encouraging the archers to participate in a sport that knows no limits.

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