Sheetal Devi: How the armless archer holds the bow, pulls the string and shoots the arrow
Sheetal Devi dazzled with a record two gold medals and a silver at the Asian Para Games 2023, magically pulling the bow, weighing around 27 kilograms, with her flexible legs and mouth to the world's astonishment.
16-year-old Sheetal Devi was the most successful Indian athlete at the just concluded Asian Para Games 2023 in Hangzhou, China. She dominated the headlines for delivering a scintillating performance despite being an armless athlete. Sheetal Devi, who won a record two gold medals, is the world's first female armless archer to compete internationally.
Due to her stunning achievements, Sheetal has now been the cynosure of all eyes. Her show of utmost determination and passion received appreciation from renowned people like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and businessman Anand Mahindra.
She won two gold medals in the women’s open individual compound and mixed team compound events, along with a silver in the women’s doubles compound event. For her individual feat, she hit the bull's eye six consecutive times for ten rings in the last two rounds of the final against Alim Nur Syahidah of Singapore. She magically pulled the bow weighing around 27 kilograms with her flexible legs and mouth to the world's astonishment.
The teenage girl's journey to the Asian Para Games 2023 is a testament to her indomitable spirit, determination and stony self-belief with which she overcame her physical disability. Her big wins at the Games are an inspiration for billions of Indians, a glimmer of hope for many across the world who struggle in their lives due to various impairments.
Sheetal, who hails from the Loidhar village of Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir, was born with Phocomelia syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that causes under-developed limbs. Sheetal’s journey from the rugged mountains of her homeland to the international stage began only two years ago.
Discovered at a military camp and adopted by the Indian Army in her childhood, Sheetal was initially doubtful about taking archery because using limbs is predominant in the sport, but she aced it.
A ray of hope emerged in the form of her potentially getting a prosthetic arm and venturing into the world of sports, but it did not fit. A meeting with Paralympic swimmer Sharath Gayakwad and former captain of the India blind cricket team Shekhar Naik inspired her to become a sportsperson and archery was her chosen field.
Sheetal started training at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Sports Complex in Katra – some 200 kilometres away from home – in August 2022 under coaches Abhilasha Chaudhary and Kuldeep Vedwan. They had never trained an archer without arms. But, they had seen 2012 London Paralympics silver medallist Matt Stutzman using his legs to shoot.
They improvised his style and implemented it for Sheetal. As seen at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, Sheetal, while sitting on a chair, uses her right leg to raise the bow and pulls the string back using her right shoulder with the help of a modified shoulder releaser. This string mechanism designed for the chin and mouth to create the trigger helps her release the arrow.
Notably, She met Stutzman at the World Archery Para Championships in Pilsen earlier this year and the legendary Para archer helped her to perfect the technique.
How Sheetal Devi holds the bow, pulls the string and shoots the arrow
Step 1: Putting on the belt
Sheetal first wraps a strap around her chest and over her shoulder. The strap has a release aid positioned over her right shoulder, and that is used to hook onto the bow string.
Step 2: Loading the bow
Preparing to shoot from a seated position, Sheetal picks up the arrow with her right foot and loads it into the bow. Once the arrow is in the bow, she grabs the bow, weighing it with her right foot.
What this does is it brings the bow up to her chest, and then she bends down toward the bow string. She pegs the release to the bow’s string, which is on her right shoulder. When the string is anchored to the release aid, she sits up and pushes her right leg away from her chest to draw the bow back. Her left foot is on the ground for stability.
Step 3: Aiming and shooting
Once the string is connected to the release, Sheetal uses her right leg to push the bow away from her body. Once she is on target, she starts her aiming process. She pulls the body back and then shoots the bow as pulling back applies pressure to the release. Sometimes she uses her jaw more to activate the release of the arrow.
This process was full on display when she shot six consecutive ten rings en route to winning her second gold while scripting a fascinating record for India. No Indian women para-athlete has ever won two gold medals in a single Asiad Para Games. She has also booked a 2024 Paris Paralympic quota place.