Understanding archery and mental healing

By Robert WhetstoneMarch 14, 2019

FORT BLISS, Texas - Toeing the line, controlled breathing, then slowly drawing back the bowstring is a mental and physical exercise each athlete executed while participating in the archery event, March 13, during the 2019 Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas.

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Jonathan Alexander, Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion, started participating in archery about eight months ago. "I never picked up a bow until I got to the WTB," he explained. "Archery gets you out of the mindset that you're hurt and can't do anything."

Alexander has observed his teammates pushing through their injuries and credits the adaptive nature and coaching they have received in the sport of archery as something that is helpful in recovery.

"It's a lot more of a mental recovery as opposed to physical," he said. "Archery helps you to calm down and realize you can do things regardless of injury. I've got a lower body injury. It makes you feel good about not being locked to a chair. (Archery) has given me an outlet."

Retired Sgt. Harvey Boyd, an Atlanta native, echoed Alexander's assessment. "Because of our injuries there is camaraderie," said Boyd. "Some of the athletes have some serious injuries, but it's not holding them back from competing. I have a lower back injury, but the concentration... when I take that first shot, I actually don't feel the pain. But, after I take that last shot and exhale, my back is like 'I'm here'!"

Participants in the archery event can shoot in either compound or recurve bow categories, from the standing or seated position, and compete in different classification categories based on functional abilities, including impaired muscle power/range of movement, limb deficiency and visual impairment. Visually-impaired archers compete in a separate classification than other archers and wear blindfolds and shoot with a tactile sight.

Both Alexander and Boyd shot in the compound bow category.

Boyd described the difference between the compound and recurve bows, stating compound bows minimize the necessary strength to fully draw the bow, while recurve bows require more strength to draw and hold prior to releasing the arrow.

Alexander and Boyd credit adaptive sports for their continued recovery and a start to the next chapter in their lives. "It does wonders for a lot of us," said Alexander. "Just to get out of the barracks and get your mind free and be with people that are in the same boat as you are, and have a good time for a couple of hours during the day does wonders for mentality and even physical therapy."

"I've been shooting all my life, but the WTB introduced the competitive aspect of the sport to me," said Boyd.

For Soldiers and veterans just getting introduced to adaptive reconditioning, Alexander has some great advice: "Be coachable in everything you do."