Health & Family

Adaptive archery program opens up sport to all abilities

With his head pointed slightly to the right of his target, 14-year-old Joe Esquivel releases an arrow from his bow.

A split-second later, he hears the pop of a balloon affixed to a bull’s-eye 30-feet away.

“Whoa,” shouted Joe, a Ballantyne resident.

“You do know what that means, right?” said archery instructor Tim Scronce.

“Yeah, a bull’s-eye,” replies Joe. “Mom, did you get a picture of that?”

Because Norrie disease, an inherited eye disorder, stole his sight at birth, Joe probably will never experience the sight of one of his arrows piercing a bull’s-eye. But few will ever appreciate the resonating sound of an arrow puncturing a balloon the way he does.

Joe is a member of an archery program coordinated by the Paralympic Sport Club Metrolina and the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s Therapeutic Recreation Section. Every Wednesday, 13 participants, ages 13 and older, meet at Barefoot Archery’s indoor range on Old Pineville Road for 45-minute sessions.

Under the guidance of Tim and Sandi Scronce of Ten Ring Archery and Park and Recreation Therapeutic Recreation specialist Jana McMullen, teenagers and adults with disabilities have the opportunity to learn a unique sport in a noncompetitive environment.

Archery was introduced last spring, one of more than 10 Paralympic sports that Therapeutic Recreation offers. As with the other sports, the mission of the archery program is to learn the fundamentals of a sport, encourage socialization and give participants a sense of accomplishment and progress.

“We’ve come really far in offering this program, especially for our visually impaired participants,” said McMullen. “It’s really amazing to see someone take part in this program, and we can offer it for really with anybody with any disability.”

Therapeutic Recreation offered spring and fall archery sessions in 2013 with about 20 participants. Most of the archers are from Charlotte, but some come from as far as Huntersville and Concord.

Last year, McMullen contacted the Scronces about leading an adaptive program. She said some shooters would be visually impaired.

“I hung up the phone and I said to my wife, ‘I have some research to do,’ ” said Tim Scronce.

Using a camera tripod as a frame, the Scronces constructed a device that allows visually impaired shooters to practice good technique by properly aligning their feet and arms with their target. A string stretching from the tripod to the target allows shooters to walk toward the target to retrieve arrows.

Joe is a freshman at Myers Park High who also enjoys adaptive baseball, goal ball, and tandem cycling through Therapeutic Recreation. His archery experience started with visits to Victory Junction summer camps for special-needs youths, in Randleman.

In archery, McMullen gives Joe verbal cues for stepping and positioning his body so that his experience is one of independence, like that of other shooters. Tim Scronce helps guide Joe’s arms and fingers so they shoot in the right direction.

After his first three shots with a recurve bow missed, Joe changed his weapon of choice to a Genesis Compound bow, which is easier to draw. During his second set of shots, Joe hit the blue ring just outside the bull’s-eye.

Later, when Joe’s expected final shot of the day wildly missed to the left, Scronce refused to let his pupil finish in defeat, retrieving three more arrows. After two more misses, Joe popped another balloon on his final shot.

“I want you to do me a favor,” Scronce said to Joe. “Go back and tell whoever said you couldn’t do archery, and tell them you can.”