Meet Sheetal Devi, first para archer without arms, is now world No.1

Courageous 16-year-old from J&K now sets her eyes on Paralympics 2024

Sheetal Devi, first para archer without arms (Photo: World Archery)
Sheetal Devi, first para archer without arms (Photo: World Archery)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It was the book launch of a rather unusual sports personality in Delhi on Friday, 1 December, which attracted an impressive gathering of mediapersons. Sheetal Devi, a 16-year-old para-archer now ranked No.1 in the world and the subject of the book, lapped up all the spotlight for a reason - she is the first armless para-archer in the competitive arena. 

Yes, you have heard it right. And her remarkable journey has been captured in the book Being You: Against All Odds. The archer from remote Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir stood tall amid stories of human courage and resilience in the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, China in October where she claimed two gold medals and silver – a feat which boosted her rankings to the top. 

 ‘’She is nothing short of a prodigy,’’ remarked Deepa Malik, a silver medalist in Rio Paralympics and an iconic figure in the country’s recent Paralympics revolution. Replying to a query from National Herald, Malik, the long serving president of Paralympics Committee of India said it was a wonder for the first armless archer in the world to come this far with just one year of dedicated practice. 

‘’Only last month, she won the Youth Asian merit award in Asian Paralympic Congress in Saudi Arabia. Sheetal showed the maturity and expertise of an elite athlete in the last Asian Para Games where she was trailing before coming back with scores of 10, 10, 10 for the gold,’’ said Malik. 

How did the journey begin for Sheetal? Born with Phocomelia, a disorder causing under-developed limbs, Sheetal began training for the sport only two years ago. Growing up in her native village, she began climbing trees with friends for fun – which significantly strengthened her upper body, helped improve her athleticism and made scouts take notice of her talent in archery during a local event organised by the Indian Army in 2021. 

A ray of hope emerged when her father Maan Singh accompanied her to acquire a prosthetic arm from Bengaluru, but she did not feel comfortable, and Sheetal’s mentors felt like they had hit the end of the road. ‘’I initially went to Bengaluru for prosthetic arms, but then began feeling heavy. Eventually, I decided to take them off and embraced a new way of doing this – using my feet,’’ Sheetal revealed before the stunned media. 

Well, Sheetal might have been only five when American para-athlete Matt Strutzman stunned spectators by shooting with his legs in the archery event of the 2012 London Paralympics. Her coaches Abhilasha Chaudhary and Kuldeep Vedwan drew inspiration from Strutzman's technique, thus modifying a releaser into a shoulder releaser and forming a string mechanism for her chin and mouth to pull the trigger and release the arrow. 

A resilient Sheetal began training at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Sports Complex in Katra. She gradually began building up the number of shots she took daily, beginning with 50 a day to going up to 300 regularly. Six months later, she won a silver medal in the Para Open Nationals in Sonepat, followed by the golden double and a silver finish in the Para Games, which prompted in congratulatory messages from  Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

‘’Proud of Sheetal Devi on her extraordinary Gold Medal in Archery Women's Individual Compound open event at the Asian Para Games. This achievement is a testament to her grit and determination,’’ PM Modi wrote on X. 

What next for Sheetal? Her coach Abhilasha filled in: ‘’Sheetal is targeting the Para Khelo India Games. After that is the National Championships, then the Fazza Archery World Ranking Championship in Dubai and then we will have the Paralympics trial.’’ 

Her biggest challenge is yet to come off, but Sheetal has already shown that she is made of sterner stuff.  

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