In order to be the best in the world, it doesn’t matter where you come from, who you know, or what your name is. The only thing that matters is that you never give up.
After one little boy was born with a major disability, no one thought he would ever accomplish or amount to anything. Yet, he refused to give up on himself and managed to prove the entire world wrong…
Far From Perfect
In the early ‘80s, doctors told an expecting couple that their unborn baby boy was perfectly healthy. Yet when the Kansas City couple first laid eyes on their baby once he was born on December 10, 1982, he was far from the perfect boy they had imagined for the previous 9 months.
The couple gave birth to a healthy baby boy like the doctors had predicted, however, he was born without arms. According to the doctors, there was no medical reason he didn’t develop arms. Even though the newborn was perfectly healthy in every other way, his parents couldn’t see past his disability…
The couple struggled to come to terms with the idea of raising a disabled child. “My parents asked the doctors what it was gonna take for me to live, and my doctors told them that it was going to cost millions of dollars for them to raise me,” Matt Stutzman explained.
Up For Adoption
When Matt was just 4 months old, his birth parents decided to put him up for adoption. Most couples looking to adopt weren’t up for the challenge of raising a child without arms, but about 9 months later, a couple from Kalona, Iowa met Matt and fell in love with him…
A New Family
In late January 1983, the Leon Stutzman family adopted 13-month-old Matthew and brought him home. Matt’s adopted parents decided early on that they were going to treat him like any other child since he wouldn’t make it very far in life if he got help every time he struggled with something.
No Special Treatment
“The natural tendency would have been to rush in and help him,” said Jean Stutzman, Matt’s mom. “Our family strategy was to allow Matt the freedom to try almost anything if he could accomplish it under his own steam. So by the time Matt was 18 months old, he was walking and feeding himself…
When Matt got older, he loved to help out on the farm. Like the rest of his siblings, Matt would carry 5-gallon buckets of feed for the calves, gather eggs, and feed the chickens. “Growing up, I was treated like every other normal kid,” Matt explained. If Matt wanted to climb a tree, for example, he’d have to figure out how to get back down because no one would come rescue him.
Learning To Adapt
“They let me… they let me fail a lot,” Matt said about his upbringing, which shaped who he is today. “Because of my parents teaching me to look at a situation and learn how to adapt myself to it versus adapting the world to me, I was able to, as I got older, accomplish the things I’ve been able to accomplish…”
A Normal Teenager
As a teenager, Matt played soccer, basketball, football, and volleyball. He even taught himself to fish a shoot a gun so he could go on fishing and hunting trips with his dad and brothers. “Matt’s life was full of action and people,” Jean said about her son. “Matt learned to handle life without special accommodations.”
A Perceived Disability
Matt even taught himself to drive a car without any special modifications and got his driver’s license. No matter what Matt did, however, people who didn’t know him continued to treat him like a disabled person. Matt even struggled to get a job after moving out on his own because of his perceived disability…
Starting A Family
In his mid-20s, Matt got married to Amber Schaller, and the couple started their family shortly after. The couple had 3 sons together, and it should have been some of the happiest years in Matt’s life. However, in the beginning, Matt struggled to provide for his new family.
“I can’t find a job. And I didn’t really feel good as a man,” Matt said. “I was in depression, ’cause here I am, supposed to take care of my family. And my wife is the one working full time, and I can’t help. And I tried to apply at jobs, and people would tell me ‘no’ all the time. I had people say, ‘If you had prosthetic arms, I would hire you.’ Last time I had prosthetic arms, I was, like, six, and I think I wore them to show and tell…”
A Way To Contribute
While sitting on the couch and watching TV one day, Matt saw a show about bow hunting, and he knew he had finally found his purpose. If he could teach himself how to hunt with a bow, he could put food on the table and feel like he was helping to take care of his family.
“How To Shoot A Bow”
“I purchased my bow. I did Google ‘How to teach an armless guy how to shoot a bow,’ and nothing came up,” Matt said. “Started watching YouTube clips on how to shoot, and within a couple days, I was shooting pretty decently. And actually went out that year and harvested a couple deer…”
Providing For His Family
“I was excited now. I found a purpose to my life. I wasn’t depressed anymore, because I now was putting food on the table and feeling like I was contributing to the family,” said Matt, who taught himself to load and shoot the bow with nothing but his feet and a belt that goes around his chest to hold a release aid.
By 2010, Matt had gotten so good at shooting the bow that a friend suggested he should enter a tournament. At that point, Matt didn’t care too much about being the best, but signed up when he heard there was prize money. When Matt began competing, his style and his skill made him stand out against all the other able-bodied archers…
Endorsements And Prizes
Matt started earning small endorsements and sometimes won the prize money. He was proud of himself until a friend showed him the reality of the situation. “I had my friend tell me that, ‘The reason why they sponsor you is because you have no arms, and you draw attention to their product. And it’s not because you’re good,'” Matt said.
The Cold, Hard Truth
“The reality was that I wasn’t that good. I was considered, kinda like a sideshow. It was a new thing, nobody had seen a guy without arms shoot a bow before. And that didn’t sit too good with me,” Matt said. “So that was the day I decided that I wanted to be known as the best archer in the world, followed by ‘Oh, by the way, did you know he does it with no arms…'”
Road To The Olympics
Matt began practicing 8 hours a day before entering the 2011 Vegas Shoot, the biggest tournament in the world, to compete against the best able-bodied archers in the world. “I had a guy come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you’re really good. Have you ever thought about participating in the Paralympics?’ The next thing I know, it’s 2012 and I’m getting ready to shoot the Paralympic trials. And I ended up winning all trials, earning the number one seed for Team USA in London.” During the Paralympics, Matt won a silver medal.
Beating The Best
“I ended up accomplishing the No. 1 rank in the world on the Para side in 2013. Two years ago, I did actually earn the 11th ranking in the world, able-bodied,” he said. Today, Matt holds the world record for the longest accurate shot to a target at just over 930 feet. He continues to train but has stepped back from the U.S. Paralympic team to try and qualify for the able-bodied U.S. Olympic team. “If you were to go into my house right now, besides a picture on the wall, there’s nothing in the house that would lead you to believe that there’s a gentleman without arms that lives there. I have no modifications in my house whatsoever. I drive a normal car, with my feet, that’s not modified. And I do have a valid license to drive that. I don’t consider myself a person with a physical disability.”