COLUMBIA — Carroll Walker holds his 41-inch, 6-pound red bow in his left hand. His arm is steady as he concentrates on the target, 60 yards away. He pulls the string back and stands still for a few brief moments before opening his jaw, and releasing the string.
In 1978, Walker lost his right arm in a farming accident. Since then, he has had to learn how to shoot by using his mouth. Although he has undergone some complaints from other competitors, he has always maintained a positive attitude about his situation.
Before his accident, Walker said he only shot arrows when hunting, but after his accident he did not want to stop shooting.
“Shooting was something I enjoyed doing, and I didn’t want to give it up so I found a way to keep shooting,” Walker said.
Walker started practicing several times a day, slowly building up the muscles in his neck and jaw.
His wife, Marilyn Walker, said when he first started shooting after his accident, he wasn’t very good.
“The first time he shot after the accident, he knocked a picture off the wall,” she said.
Yet, it didn’t take too long for him to perfect the art of shooting with a chew strap.
Walker gets ready for his next shot. The 6-foot-4-inch man bends down at his waist and holds his bow between his knees. With his left hand, he grabs his next arrow from his quiver strapped around his waist. With his bow still in between his knees, he puts his arrow into place and slowly rises with the bow and arrow in his left hand. He brings his bow toward his face and grabs the cloth chew strap with his teeth and extends his arm, pulling the string taut. With the chew strap in his mouth, he aligns his shot and releases the arrow by opening his jaw.
Walker said he puts in a lot of practice at home so he knows where to hold and how to stand.
“You shoot enough and you just memorize it,” Walker said.
His first tournament since the accident was in 1980, and by 1983 Walker was state champion. Since then, by his own count, he has won three national archery competitions, 12 or 13 indoor state competitions and 11 or 12 outdoor state competitions. He also competed in the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona, but did not place.
This year is Walker’s third year participating in the Missouri State Senior Games.
Walker said when he first started competing in archery competitions, he was nervous about how people would react to how he shot.
“The first year or so I was shooting, it was nerve-racking,” Walker said. “There’s always a few who’ve never seen me shoot and they’ll stare and watch.”
Kids are always enthralled by the way he shoots, he said. Most people are used to him and amazed by his positive attitude.
“He’s always had a great attitude and acceptance,” Marilyn Walker said.
After 30 years, Walker does not dwell on the accident. It’s over and there’s nothing he can do about it now, he said, so he might as well move on and do the best he can. His experience at the Paralympics gave him that way of thinking because he met other people who were coping with disabilities, he said.
“The thing that really stuck in my mind was no matter how down you feel on yourself, there’s always someone worse off than what you are,” Walker said.