Arrow of Glory: Sheetal Devi’s Year of Victory

In the world of sports, triumph often goes hand in hand with adversity, and few embody this journey as vividly as Sheetal Devi, a remarkable Paralympic champion who has not only overcome physical challenges but has also emerged as a symbol of resilience and determination. In October 2023, 16 year old Sheetal Devi competed at the Asian Paralympic Games, emerging victorious with 3 medals in the archery division. Sheetal Devi, retrieving 1 silver and 2 gold for India, was recognized around the world as the first female armless archer to win a medal at the Para World Championships. Her passion, dedication, and overall perseverance played a huge role in her success, but her story is just as inspirational.


Born in Jammu and Kashmir on January 10th 2007, Sheetal Devi was diagnosed at birth with phocomelia, a rare congenital disorder resulting in the absence of both of her arms. Later in life, at a youth event held by the Indian Army in 2021, Sheetal Devi was quickly recognized for her talents by the Rashtriya Rifles, and she began training with them almost immediately. As she later revealed to her coaches, Devi found great pleasure in climbing trees using only her legs, which played a major role in her training with the bow and arrow. Devi’s coaches, Abhilasha Chaudary and Kuldeep Vedwan, first looked into prosthetics, but unfortunately, medics said bionic arms wouldn’t be an option for her. Her coaches, who had not previously encountered the challenge of training an archer without arms, were faced with an unfamiliar situation. Seeking guidance, they conducted thorough research and came across the achievements of Matt Stutzman, an adept armless archer. Drawing inspiration from his methods, they adjusted their coaching strategies to effectively cultivate her exceptional talent. With new-found confidence, Devi and her coaches set to training. Using her expertise and extreme mobility with her legs, Devi was ready to compete in just 11 months. “Initially, I could not even lift the bow properly. But, after practicing for a couple of months, it became easier,” Devi told The Indian Express. 


Sheetal Devi’s journey started in Haryana, India, at the Para Archery National Championship in early 2022. This specific competition gave her formal recognition as an Indian para archer. Six months later, Devi competed at the Junior National Championships in Goa, amongst other para archers. Unfortunately, Devi did not win her category, but her performance was more than enough to motivate her further, proving how exceptionally talented she was with such little training. Soon after, Devi secured a silver medal at the 2023 world championships, as well as two golds and one silver at the Asian Para Games, claiming the No. 1 spot in the rankings for para compound archers.

Devi concluded her year of victory with a gold medal at the inaugural Khelo India Para Games 2023 in Delhi, India. Not only was she named the Best Youth Athlete of the Year by the Asian Paralympic Committee and Best Women’s Para Archer of the Year by World Archery, but she was also nominated to receive the Arjuna Award at India’s National Sports Awards 2023. Devi’s biggest drive in her career was her support system –  “My parents always had faith in me. My friends in the village also supported me. The only thing I didn’t like was the look on people’s faces when they realized that I don’t have arms. These medals prove that I am special. These medals are not just mine, but of the whole country,” she said. Sheetal Devi’s hard work, dedication, and perseverance only drove her further in her career. She made a name for herself, as well as specially abled people around the world, not to mention her family and her country. Devi’s story is an inspiration to people worldwide, as they learn from her successes and failures, proving that perseverance is the greatest key to success.