Navy veteran hopes to repeat his Paralympic archery success in Tokyo
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 16, 2021
A Paralympic archery champion who used to drive assault boats for the Navy will vie for another gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Andre Shelby, 54, of Jeffersonville, Ind., will compete against 15-20 other archers in a qualification tournament next month that will see three selected to travel to Japan with the U.S. Paralympic team.
The Tokyo Paralympics are scheduled Aug. 24 through Sept. 5.
Shelby’s path to the games began when he was medically retired from the Navy in 2004 following a motorcycle accident that severed his spinal cord and left him a paraplegic, he said in a telephone interview Friday.
The injury ended an 18-year military career that saw him serve as a boatswain’s mate on numerous warships, including in the Persian Gulf. On his last vessel, the dock landing ship USS Tortuga, he was responsible for heavy equipment such as assault boats.
The father of four, like many whose service careers are ended by injury, asked himself: “What am I going to do now? How am I going to take care of my family?”
At first it felt like there was “no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, adding that support and counseling made his transition relatively smooth.
The 225-pound, 6-foot-tall former high school football player attended events, some organized by the Navy, where he participated in sports adapted for disabled people such as tennis, table tennis, basketball, waterskiing and archery.
Meanwhile, he studied biotechnology and started working in a microbiology laboratory until it closed in 2015.
“At that point I went full archery,” he said.
Shelby shoots arrows during three-hour training sessions, four days a week in preparation for the games. He’s not a bowhunter and confines his archery to the range, he said.
The sport gives competitors something to strive for, Shelby said.
“In archery you have to rely on yourself and trust your confidence,” he said. “You are always looking to improve your shot and get better.”
Shelby’s skills have taken him a long way in the sport. He is the Parapan American champion and won a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics, where he joined 4,327 other athletes representing 159 countries. In the championship match, he scored a 10 with his final shot to win the gold medal by one point.
Shelby has ability and drive, said Randi Smith, head coach of the U.S. Para Archery National Team from 2005 to 2018, in an article posted on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum’s website.
“He wanted to get better and he would put in the effort,” Smith Said. “He listened to coaching and listened to suggestions and was willing to try things out and see what worked for him.”
Paralympic archers use aluminum bows and shoot at targets 50 meters away. During the qualification round archers shoot 72 arrows and score based on how close their shots get to the bullseye.
The former sailor isn’t concerned about the coronavirus. He was vaccinated in January and February.
If Shelby makes it to Tokyo, he’d like to drop in on the Navy, which stations thousands of sailors nearby at Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa prefecture, but is unsure if the Paralympic schedule will allow it.
“While we are there, we have a strict schedule and we have to stick to it,” he said. “When I go off the Olympic compound, I need an escort.”
He saw Chinese archery during a tournament in Beijing in 2017 and hopes to see traditional Japanese archers perform in Tokyo, he said.
“I think I have a really good chance to make the team again,” he said.