By TOM RADEMACHER | ?The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — National archery champion Joe Wiseman draws his bow back with practiced deftness, his eyes focused on a target 60 feet away, about the length of a bowling alley.
His head tips up just a bit, then down, and then steadies. His body quiets. Then, in the time it takes to snap a finger, the arrow leaves the bow and finds its mark.
Which isn't too shabby, for a guy who shoots with his teeth.
It's not because he wants to, but rather the only choice he has, given the debilitating accident that nearly killed him when he was 19, some 11 years ago, according to The Grand Rapids Press.
Wiseman was driving an ATV in the Baldwin area when he hit a ditch that intersected the trail. He plowed head-first into a utility pole at a speed of 70-plus miles per hour. His helmet was split in three places, his shoes found nearly 100 feet from impact.
He smiles wryly to remember: “I always had to be the biggest, the fastest, the baddest.”
Another man probably would have died. But at least one doctor conjectured that because Joe worked as a tender, that's the grunt who lugs mortar and block for masons, and it makes you big, he somehow pulled through.
With 13 broken vertebrae.
When he awoke 10 days later in intensive care, he discovered that his numerous other injuries included damage to his right side that left his dominant arm paralyzed. Most of the time, it hangs loosely at his side, though he can summon it upward a bit by bending at the elbow. The fingers, though, are virtually useless.
A couple years back, however, he regained a thirst for it and went searching for ways to adapt, scouring the Internet for others similarly afflicted. He found enough to convince himself that he might re-visit his pastime by substituting his teeth for tendons.
Wiseman is no stranger to challenge and adversity. He was a highly decorated football player at Comstock Park High School, from which he graduated in 2001. He also lettered in basketball and baseball.
After high school, he found work at JK Masonry Inc. not far from his home then, lugging concrete blocks and mixing mud while attending Grand Rapids Community College.
The accident put his life on hold, but he managed not only to graduate from GRCC, and eventually earn a bachelor's degree in construction management from Ferris State University. He now works as a manager for JK Masonry.
In re-learning how to shoot a bow, he soon discovered he could hit a target with regularity.
By this time, he'd moved north to Howard City, and began practicing at an indoor shooting range above Rustic Sports there.
It wasn't long before he was beating some of the locals in friendly bouts, and he decided to enter formal competitions.
Earlier this year, he won the National Field Archery Association sectionals held in Muskegon, which drew archers from five states competing in the Indoor Bowhunter Freestyle Limited division.
And last month, Wiseman's hard work paid off with a first place showing in Nationals, held at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville.
Over a two-day period, he scored 291/29 and 293/30. The first number represents points amassed out of 300 possible, and the second number reflects how many arrows found the white part of the target, nearest the bullseye.
His competitors included men who use their fingers, and not a trigger release, to shoot, none of whom were visibly disabled.
“He's just winning everything; we love him,” says Jennifer Martindale of Howard City, who serves on the board for two area-wide archer's associations.
Adds another Rustic patron, Rick Walker, “I wish I could beat him; he's phenomenal.”
Where others pull a string or trigger release with their hand, Wiseman ties a piece of braided nylon cord that extends about two inches from the string.
After nocking the arrow, he brings the bow to his mouth and clenches the wad of string with the jaw teeth on his right side, then extends his left arm while simultaneously pulling back with his teeth to extend the bow.
Incredibly, Wiseman shoots with a draw weight of 62 pounds, and increases it to 72 when hunting, no small feat, even for someone with two good arms.
That's a lot to ask of your molars, and I wondered whether Wiseman's dentist is aware.
He says no, then laughs to recall how during one shoot, out popped what he thought for an instant were some teeth. In the next moment, he remembered he'd eaten some potato chips before taking to the bow, and hadn't swallowed them all.
What also astounds fellow archers is that Wiseman shoots lights out with a bowhunting bow, and not a more sophisticated “target” bow with a scope and other target-enhancing accouterments.
And this: He hunts game from a ladder stand, again, no small feat to climb with one good arm. This past year, he scored a doe, a buck and two turkeys with arrows.
When Wiseman isn't shooting, he's fishing or boating or remodeling the home and cabin he shares with wife Lacey and their 4-month-old daughter, Gracie. That would include re-shingling both dwellings, and Wiseman ascending a ladder with bundle after bundle of shingles over his shoulder, a weight of between 70 and 85 pounds each trip up.
While another archer with Wiseman's fast-accruing credentials might seek out stardom or sponsorships, he's more focused on helping others with similar disabilities who want to shoot a bow, and he invites the curious to contact him through his Facebook page.
“What gets me fired up is when people tell me I can't do something. That's when I get very determined to prove them wrong.
“I want to inspire others to show them that there's a way, that they can do it. For me, there's more joy in helping someone else out, than there is in shooting.”
Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids