Sandy drew the string on her compound bow and looked at the target. She took a few deep breaths and stretched a little further to get the right distance. A hush fell on the crowd, and she knew everyone was staring at her, but she was used to it.
Using her chin, she fired the release mechanism on her bow, and the arrow flew free. When she fired she knew she was going to hit her mark, so she started smiling and turned before the arrow made an impact. The crowd cheered a few seconds later, and she walked over to her coach.
“Fantastic shot, Sandy. One more like that and we’ll clinch the medal.”
Sandy stopped in front of her coach and removed the customs release brace, massaging the stump where her arm used to be. It was a habit she had started practicing even though there was no soreness or tenderness in the amputated area. In fact, it was rather calloused and tough, but rubbing it after a good shot was a ritual she thought brought her good luck, so she kept doing it.
“You think so?” she said, sitting in her chair and resting her bow on her lap.
“Even with the failure on the distance portion?”
Coach shook his head, and Sandy thought of what winning meant. No one thought she would get as far as she did. As the only para-athlete competing with the regular athletes, people assumed she would place last. Anything above last they figured would be a pity, but when she pulled ahead in every competition, she entered. Now, in the championship, she had faced nothing but conflict, but she was persevering.
“Even with the distance performance,” Coach said, rubbing her back and observing the competitions’ shots.
When she’d first lost her arm things had been rough, and archery had been the one constant that gave her peace. She originally used her mouth to draw the bow, but she saw a video of a gentleman from Australia using a custom release strap, and she opted to follow his example. Where he only competed with other para-athletes, she decided she wanted to compete the same way she did before the accident.
Despite all the things she’d overcome, distance shooting was where she was unable to keep up. Though the custom release strap allowed her to draw the arrow like she had two arms, the distance she was able to stretch was diminished.
The final archer made the crowd gasp, but Sandy was too rapt in her thoughts to notice why. If Coach said she could win, the only thing that mattered was sinking her next arrow in the bullseye.
Officials moved everyone to the next area, and Sandy admired the weather. It was a beautiful summer day without a cloud in the sky. The sun was high enough to stay out of her eyes when she shot, and even reflections were kept to a minimal. The only thing that could have made the day better was a breeze, but currently, the air was still.
Receiving no help her coach, Sandy fastened her release strap again and took her position. She looked down at the target. It was the furthest target outside of the distance portion of the competition, and she took a deep breath. She felt the crowd’s eyes staring at her again, and she started smiling. Even if she missed the mark, getting as far as she did was a monumental achievement for handicapable athletes everywhere.
She moved her shoulder and the arrow together and latched the book to the proper place. She stretched out her body and aimed. She took a couple of deep breaths and lifted a little to compensate for the distance. With a final stretch, she pressed her chin against the release and fired.
Holding her breath, she watched the arrow zip down, and this time she kept looking. It hit the bullseye, but hitting the target was only part of this particular shot. What she was unable to see was how deep the arrow penetrated, and in a case where someone was close enough to her to tie, the victor would own the deeper arrow.
Coach started rubbing her back again, and she ignored the applause of the crowd. Her heart raced, and she kept breathing deep, nervous that her arrow was too shallow. She looked over her shoulder at Coach and unhooked her release strap.
“You think I got enough penetration?”
“I think you’re going home with the gold.”
Sandy knew he was encouraging her, but she took it all the same. They were told to wait right where they were while the rest of the competitors finished their shots. When all were finished the judges walked along and judged everyone’s shot before convening at a tent in the center of the competition field.
Now that they were in deliberation, the competitors were allowed to head to the tent for the final announcement. She was as tense as she’d ever been, but at the same time, she was at peace with whatever the decision revealed. She had given her best and done more than most people would two arms could even do, so the day would be a success.
“In third place is Jim Henson, in second place is Tommy Jefferson, and, in the first place,” the announcer started, pulling applause from the spectators and coaches that had surrounded the tent. “Drum roll, please. In first place is Sandy O’Connor!”
The crowd cheered, and Sandy felt like she was in a dream. Her coach cheered the loudest, and he pat her back, gently pushing her toward the judges he held out a trophy that was almost as big as her. She grabbed it by one of the columns and held it up with her arm, the smile plastered to her face so wide it made the muscles in her cheeks sore.
“That’s not fair!” came a voice from the crowd, and a few seconds later one of her competitors stepped forward. “Handy Sandy has an unfair advantage. That strap helped her win.”
The crowd erupted into a flurry of murmurs, and Sandy lowered the trophy. A well of sadness bubbled within her chest, and she shot her eyes to the judge. If it were true, she felt like it would be a blow to her ego that would crush her will to compete.
“Settle down, everyone, settle down,” the judge said, lifting and lowering his hands. “Unfortunately for you, Mr. Jefferson, the release strap was inspected and approved prior to the start of the season. The ruling was that it provided no unfair advantage since it required no modification to the bow or the arrows. It acts the same as your arm would, and thus it is allowed.
Tommy hung his head and stepped back beside his coach, and he had a look on his face of hatred. But Sandy smiled, thinking of the name Tommy had called her. He meant it to cause pain, but she liked it.
“Handy Sandy for the win,” she said, thrusting the trophy as high as she could into the air and cheering.