What makes superheroes “super?” Is it their ability to scale mountains, conquer the impossible, right the wrong, and champion the good?
Sometimes your favorite heroes have superhuman strength, like Superman. Sometimes they have extraordinary skills, like Katniss’ sure-fire shots. And sometimes they’re ordinary people with ordinary talents, striving to excel and inspire others.
Andre Shelby of Jacksonville, Florida, is a member of the U.S. Paralympics archery team and a Rio 2016 Olympic hopeful. He doesn’t swing an enchanted hammer, and he can’t shrink like Ant-Man. But the way he proudly wields a bow and arrow makes him a real-life hero.
Shelby joined the Navy in 1985 just one week after graduating high school, and served for 18½ years. He saw the world, made lifelong friends, and provided an excellent life for his wife and two daughters.
Shelby retired from the Navy in 2004 after a motorcycle accident. Although the accident confined him to a wheelchair, it didn’t stop him from achieving incredible feats. His military experience continues to affect his daily life and archery career. He has incredible shooting abilities, and his team mentality and poise under pressure make him truly heroic.
“I think the military experience gives me the extra mental attitude,” Shelby said. “When you’re conducting any type of operation for the Navy – whether it’s fighting a fire on the ship, refueling two ships while they’re moving side by side, driving small boats during operations, or just everyday shipboard life – you have to maintain your focus or someone can be seriously hurt.”
Shelby’s coach, M.J. Rogers, agrees that Shelby’s military experience shaped his attitude, which is one of his best assets. “He maintains his composure and intensity throughout the competition,” Rogers said. “This allows his shooting to shine.”
Shelby’s shooting shone in a big way at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in early August. The Games welcomed 1,600 para-athletes to the largest Parapan Am Games ever, and Shelby emerged as a champion.
“I liked Toronto because it gave me the opportunity to see different types of disabilities in all sports,” Shelby said. “When everyone is on that level, there are no disabilities.”
Shelby shot against teammate and 2012 Paralympian Matt Stutzman for the gold. Stutzman’s earlier event record earned him the No. 1 seed, but Shelby shot a perfect finish to take the gold medal and championship.
Coach Rogers described the Parapan Am win as a “standout performance.”
“It really solidified in Andre’s mind that he belonged in the top and boosted his confidence,” Rogers said. “That propelled his finish at the Para World’s.”
A few weeks later, Shelby competed in the World Archery Para-Championships in Germany. Athletes from around the world congratulated Shelby on his Toronto win and cheered him on to a championship that was, in a word, “unbelievable.”
Shelby shot against the world’s best archers, and rode the No. 1 seed all the way to a double-arrow shoot-off that landed him sixth overall. That finish, coupled with a World Champion team win, earned him a No. 14 world ranking.
Said coach Randi Smith: “Andre has made a lot of progress, from being at military camps, to making the National team, to getting a gold medal at the Parapan Am Games, and being on the gold-medal team at the world championships.”
That momentum sets up Shelby to try qualifying for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“He’s a strong contender,” Smith said. “He’ll go where he decides he wants to. We haven’t discussed his plans after Rio, but I hope he’ll keep competing for several more years.”
Shelby has only been competing in para-archery since 2013, yet he has already made an impact on the sport and Team USA. He rose far above the challenges of shooting from a wheelchair, and he continues to inspire those around him with his infectious sense of humor.
We thank him for his service, and wish him the best of luck as he prepares for #Rio2016.