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Reprinted from SNS March 2018

Adaptive archery offers a great combination of fun, challenges and rewards for all levels and ages

No matter your age or physical ability, all it takes is practice, mental preparation and a little guidance to compete in adaptive archery. 

Take it from Lisa “Lia” Coryell, a Paralympic archer with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). An Army veteran, Coryell had never picked up a bow before she started competing from a wheelchair in 2015. At age 50, she became the U.S. archery team’s first female classified as W1, which means the most significant impairments in both upper and lower limbs. She’s now nationally ranked No. 1 and ranked No. 4 in the world in women’s W1 compound bow. 

Adaptive archery is becoming a popular sport in the United States and worldwide, Coryell says. From recreational to international competitions, there are plenty of ways to get involved. 

“If people really want to shoot archery, we will find a way,” Coryell says. “And not everybody wants to be a Paralympian or shoot on the USA national team. I’ve had people come to me who’ve had a stroke and say, ‘Oh, I just want to shoot my bow. I just want to bow hunt.’”


For beginning or prospective adaptive archers, Coryell recommends starting at a local adaptive sports clinic, archery range or pro shop to try out the sport and the equipment. First, an athlete must choose which type of bow, either compound or recurve, to use. From there, a multitude of adaptations exist for every level of ability.

While Olympic archers only shoot recurve bows, para archers can shoot compound or recurve bows. 

Many times, beginning archers will start with a recurve bow because of their simplicity and light weight. Recurve bows have a handle, two limbs and fixed draw weight, which is the effort required to draw the bow string back to the shooting position. 

“It’s harder to shoot a recurve from a wheelchair because of the length of the bow,” says Randi Smith, USA Archery Paralympic head coach. “That’s one of the big things, but also with a compound bow, you’re not holding the whole weight of the bow back, so it makes it easier for some people with more severe disabilities to shoot the compound bow.”

Compound bows have a wheel-and-pulley system and require archers to find their maximum draw weight. Coryell says as an archer’s upper body strength and technique improve over time, he or she can begin to increase the draw weight.

There are no modifications to the bows used in para archery; only the way in which the archer releases the arrow is modified. For Coryell, hanging onto a release or finger tab is a problem because of grip issues, so she’s tried several types of mechanical releases. Coryell also built up the handle of her bow with a moldable putty, and she sometimes wears a wrist brace.

“After you let a hundred arrows go, it’s hard to keep your arm out in front of you, let alone your wrist strong,” she says. “When my grip gets bad, I’ve used a golf glove or quarterback glove and we just put some elastic around the fingers and a button on the cuff so that the fingers of the glove are over my release and button to the glove so that I don’t drop the release.”

Other adaptations include wrist releases or shoulder harnesses, where the release can be adapted to be set off by the athlete’s chin or cheek movement. Some archers use a bow stand, which is a metal apparatus that clamps down on the bow’s limb so the archer doesn’t have to hold the weight of the bow. The archer steadies the bow with one hand and pulls it back with the other. Another common adaptation is a mouth tab. 

“There’s the actual mouth tab, which is a piece of rope or something they’ve chosen,” Smith says. “We have one of our athletes who uses a piece of cat leash, and it’s attached to the string. So they’ll put the arrow on, and then they’ll bite down on that mouth tab and then they push out with their arm, and when they’re ready to release, the mouth opens and that lets the arrow go.”

Smith says mouth tabs are harder on the neck than the teeth, but athletes should ensure they bite down using their molars.

The type of arrows used depends on a number of factors, including whether the competition is indoors or outdoors. Coryell says it takes a lot of trial and error for each athlete to figure out an optimal length, weight and thickness for his or her arrows. In outdoor competitions, arrows can be no thicker than 9.3 millimeters, but Smith says very few people shoot large arrows outdoors because they’re heavier and don’t fly as well. The most common arrow materials are carbon or carbon aluminum.

 “The hardest part for emerging archers is to not lose them [the arrows] because they tend to shoot them outside and then you can’t find them, or they break them,” Coryell says.

As is the case with many sports, more expensive equipment doesn’t necessarily translate to higher scores.

“As long as your equipment is safe and usable, you don’t need a top-end bow to do well,” Coryell says.


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