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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado - U.S. Navy Veteran Andre Shelby (Jacksonville, Florida) made his Paralympic debut in Rio de Janeiro last week and shocked the world when he climbed from a 7th place seed to the gold medal finish and Paralympic Champion title.
Shelby joined the Navy in 1985, just one week after his high school graduation, and served for nearly two decades before retiring in 2004 after a motorcycle accident confined him to a wheelchair. Shelby was not going to let this stop him from chasing his dreams. A recent breakout on the international archery scene, Shelby quickly racked up the 2015 Parapan American Games Champion title and won team gold at the 2015 World Archery Para Championships. He also won bronze at the 2016 SoCal Showdown competing in the combined division with some of the top able-bodied competitors in the nation.
After walking off the line in Rio with the gold finish, Shelby commented: "This is unbelievable. I worked really, really hard, and this has been a goal of mine for about four years now. Things have really come together. My teammates really helped me out, and just to take this home and share it with them is very special. More people had faith in me to win this than I did, but the people back home have really been cheering me on the whole way."
Now that he is back in the U.S. Shelby still feels overwhelmed by the support and excitement from his hometown and family. "I have a thousand things running through my head-to meet everybody's expectations and not let anybody down was one of the big ones. Back in Indiana, where my family is from, it's crazy from what my mother has been telling me. There was a lot of support from home and from what I understand they're presenting my mother and father with something at the high school homecoming game, it's really crazy."
Shelby's wife and two daughters watched his competition online through live scores: "I think they realized once I got through a couple matches and saw that I was going for the gold medal, I think they recognized I wasn't doing this for recreation, like 'he had a purpose, this was his goal and he's finally going to have a chance to achieve it.' My wife was really happy about that."
While competing in Rio, Shelby shared that his biggest challenge was the changing conditions on the field: "Rio was really nice, the venue was a very good field to shoot on. It was tricky with the wind, and the real tricky part was shooting all the matches one at a time on one field. We started shooting in the morning and by the time we finished it was nighttime. The lights played with you so you really had to make good shots and trust in it."
To stay calm and confident during his matches Shelby relied on his process and advice from Paralympic Coach Randi Smith: "During my matches, I was just constantly talking myself through my shot and my process. I wasn't focusing on the crowd or my opponent; I rarely knew what they were shooting. Randi would say, 'Stay focused, go through your process, it's all going to come together.' In between shots when my opponent was shooting, I was just like 'Okay, here's my next step, let's do this, make sure of this,' went through my checks and balances so that when I made the next shot it was the best possible shot I could make at that time."
"It's been a long road, everything we all have done in this past year to get to where we are, I'm proud of everybody that was there with me and how they shot and handled their situation," added Shelby. "I think we really had a good combination of people and everything was set in the right place and the right time for the way things worked out."
His advice to others who are thinking about taking up adaptive sports is: "Whether you want to be recreational or if you want to try shooting for the Paralympics or whatever the case may be, you have to stay focused, you have to know who God has put in your path to help you along the way, and if you can remember that and your focus and your dedication, know good things are going to come out of that. I just remembered all the people that helped me along the way because if it weren't for their support, there is no way I would be where I am today."
Up next for Shelby: "I'm going to sit back, I'm still going to shoot for the next month or two just to maintain where I'm at. I would like to try to make Tokyo 2020, but I think I'd like to try to get into some other type of archery shooting to have a little bit more fun and break things up-it might be a 3-D or field shoot or something like that. I'll still shoot some major events and hopefully maintain where I'm at right now."
Shelby's amazing win caught the attention of many fans across the nation and his accomplishments earned him a spot as a finalist for Team USA's Best Male Athlete of the Paralympic Games Award, presented by The Hartford. "That was another surprise," commented Shelby. "I'm like, 'Okay, first time here, I'm being put in with these guys who've been here a couple of times, have won numerous medals,' that was just crazy. I'm really happy for that. It's a great honor to be nominated." Voting concludes tomorrow, September 23rd. To vote for Shelby, visit TeamUSA.org/Awards.
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