DOINews: USFWS: Natchitoches NFH Staff Helps 4-H Archer Overcome a Missing Hand

Last edited 09/05/2019

By Tony Brady

In September, Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana began hosting the Natchitoches Parish 4-H archery program. A total of 27 kids have participated at least once in the five practices that have been held. Most of these kids had never shot a bow and arrow before coming to the hatchery for 4-H practice.

Veronica is shooting this bow using a wrist brace to hold the bow with her left arm. Photo by USFWS

Of these 27 kids, one young lady, Veronica, was more determined than the rest to shoot her bow and arrow. Veronica was born with a congenital amputation of her left hand, leaving her with just a wrist joint at the end of her arm. Veronica, an avid reader, wanted to be like the heroes and heroines who were archers in some of her favorite books. Veronica came to 4-H practice with a youth recurve bow that she would hold in her right hand and draw the bowstring back with her left wrist.

This method worked but was inaccurate because she could never get a consistent release of the string. After one practice where I had the archers shoot a mock 4-H competition to give them the feel of the target sizes and distances they would shoot, Veronica left discouraged because she had not done very well. Not wanting Veronica to quit archery, I asked her mother if they would be open for me to try to develop a way for Veronica to hold the bow with her left arm and use her right hand to draw the string.

Veronica and her mom agreed, and I began to research aids that archers with disabilities use for hunting and in the Paralympics. Archery aids varied from bite tabs, where archers would use their mouth to hold the string while their good arm pushed to bow to draw it, to attachments that would hold the bow string while the archer aimed the bow.

To assist Veronica, I got a wrist brace with metal splints and attached it to the handle of the bow. She placed her left arm in the brace to hold the bow and used her right hand to draw the bowstring back. The brace idea worked wonderfully, and after trying the brace with several different types of bows, Veronica discovered that the modern compound bow and a mechanical release was a suitable alternative to the recurve and long bows of her heroes and heroines.

While practicing with the brace on my daughter's bow (they have the same draw length), Veronica has been able to consistently hit the target at the three distances (10, 15 and 20 meters) used in the 4-H competition.

After a couple of practices with Veronica using the brace, there is nothing better than to see the smile that has replaced the disappointed look that she left the hatchery with just two weeks ago.

Tony Brady is a Biologist at Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery. He was honored by the American Recreation Coalition with a 2013 Legends in recognition of outstanding work to improve outdoor recreation experiences and opportunities for the American people.

Submitted by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Feb. 3, 2014

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