'An Arm To Shoot My Bow'
Lost limb can't keep soldier away from beloved archery
Lance Thornton has always been an archery enthusiast, starting when he was a young boy, deer hunting near his home in Ozark, Ark.
The sport means more to him now, and he never wants that to change.
"As long as I am able to pull a bow, I want to be shooting, hunting, something," said Thornton, 28, who now lives in Stotts City, Mo.
Thornton, who lost most of his right arm in Iraq in 2007, will compete in his first international para-archery competition at the World Para Championships in Bangkok, Thailand, this week.
"I would say archery has been a big help to me ... in everything," said Thornton, a retired Army sergeant. "My wife says it's the best thing for me. I know it has helped me tremendously.
"I'm a competitive person and (archery) has helped me stay competitive. I mean, no matter how hard I try, I can't throw left-handed. I've tried playing basketball, and I'm terrible at it. But I'm able to competitive in archery to the point I think I'm better now than before."
Thornton works at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., and is thankful to have it as his sponsor. (Courtesy teamusa.org)
On July 6, 2007, while on deployment in Iraq with the Arkansas National Guard's Charlie Battery 142nd Field Artillery unit, a vehicle carrying Thornton and members of his crew was struck by an improvised explosive device. While his driver, Lucas Wilkins of Ozark, Ark., and his gunner, Buddy Robinson of Oark, Ark., suffered shrapnel wounds, Thornton's right hand and forearm had to be amputated.
While recovering, Thornton was certain what kind of prosthetic he wanted.
"An arm to shoot my bow," he told teamusa.org during the Warrior Games at Colorado Springs, Colo., in May. "After I got released from the hospital, I started shooting my bow on my convalescent leave.
"You look at it one or two ways. You can roll over and die and let it take over you, or you can just drive on. I look at it as these are the cards I was dealt, and I’m just going to play these hands."
Thornton started bow hunting when he turned 7, using his birthday money to purchase his first bow.
"Primarily I hunted deer and turkey," said Thornton, who now works as a facilities technician at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo. “Right now, I'm focusing on elk. I haven't got one yet, but I'm working at it."
Thornton also picked up sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops to help cover the costs of his trip to the World Championships.
"I was pretty blown away when they stepped up to help me out," he said. "For any outdoors junkie, it's a pretty big deal to have Bass Pro Shops as your sponsor."
Whether it's because he has more drive now or because he practices more now, Thornton said he is a better and more consistent shooter now than before he lost his arm.
He uses the hook on his prosthetic to draw the bow and his mouth to release the trigger.
"Since I lost my arm, I pay more attention to my aim," he said. "Then I twist or push my jaw to click the trigger."
Team USA Archery is currently enjoying an upswing on all levels. The Americans claimed the men's team silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012. Last month, the men's recurve team claimed the United States' first world championship since 1983 in Turkey. Several weeks ago, the junior men's compound team smashed the world record by 29 points at the World Archery Youth Championships in China.
For the Para-Championships in Bangkok, after a heated competition at the U.S. Team Trials at Chula Vista, Calif., in August, the American team will consist of Thornton, 2012 Paralympian Dugie Denton of Joilet, Montana, and California's Jeff Sena.
"I think we've got a team that can compete really well over there," Thornton said. "We're going over there with plans to win it."