'Archer without Arms'- Sheetal Devi delivers two gold at Asian Para Games
16-year-old archer Sheetal Devi became the first Indian woman to win two gold medals in a single edition of the Asian Para Games.
What is the basic requirement to be an archer? You need to have strong arms to be able to aim and shoot. But there is one archer who defies all the conventional methods.
A 16-year-old armless archer from Jammu and Kashmir, Sheetal Devi created history after becoming the first-ever Indian woman to win two gold medals in the same edition of Asian Para Games 2023.
According to the sport's governing body World Archery, Sheetal Devi is the first female archer without arms to compete internationally.
Sheetal won a total of three medals at the Asian Para Games: gold in women's individual, gold in the compound mixed team event, and women's doubles silver.
Born with a rare disease but generational talent
Born with Phocomelia, a rare congenital disorder characterized by the underdevelopment or absence of limbs, particularly the arms or legs, Sheetal was undeterred by her condition.
The condition meant that Sheetal was unable to do any sporting activities but she would climb trees for her pastime using her legs and upper body. Eventually, her upper body strength is something that helps her during the archery matches.
A lot of biomechanics is involved in how Sheetal shoots at medal time and time again.
The 16-year-old holds and balances the approx 28 kg bow with her right leg and pulls the string using a manual releaser which is attached to her shoulder. She uses a device called the trigger which is held in her mouth to direct the arrow at the target 50 meters away.
Watch: How Sheetal Devi uses her shoulder, leg, and mouth to release the bow
As seen in the video, Sheetal is using her left leg to keep her body upright and that is where her upper body strength developed during tree climbing comes in handy to maintain the balance.
Sheetal's style is inspired by Paralympic medalist and World Champion Para Archer Matt Stutzman who was also born without arms.
Adopted by the Indian Army
Sheetal's journey in the sporting world started when she was spotted by scouts for her athleticism in a youth talent hunt program organized by the Indian army in her village Kishtwar in 2021.
Recognizing her talent and undying spirit, the Indian army adopted her to provide her education, medical care, and the training for Para Archery.
She started her training under Paralympic coach Kuldeep Vedwan but the initial attempts to get her a prosthetic arm failed. As her sporting career looked bleak, the coaches came up with an improvised setup based on what Matt Stutzman did at the London Olympics.
It was tough for Sheetal in her early days but she improved as time moved on and started shooting more than 300 bows daily.
Her outing at the Para National Championships made her more interested in the sport.
“Earlier she was reluctant to do Para Archery. I told her to come to the academy and see other people shooting,” her coach Kuldeep told World Archery during the Para World Championships.
“I took her to the national championships. She was excited and saw many para archers with different disabilities. She quickly got interested in the sport," he added further.
Once she got interested, there was no looking back as Sheetal won medals at the Para National Championships. Her first big moment came when she became the only armless female archer at the Para World Championships to win a silver medal.
For someone who picked the bow just two years back, Sheetal Devi has already cemented her legacy as the first armless female archer in the world.
With the Paralympics less than one year away, Sheetal has more historic moments waiting for her.