Teen Archer Hits Her Mark Despite Vision Impairment

Taengkwa Sturgell doesn't let anything stop her, including blindness. She recently began learning archery at school with the rest of her seventh-grade class. Now, she's in tournaments.
Teen Archer Hits Her Mark Despite Vision Impairment

By JENNIFER LOESCH | Evansville Courier & Press

HAUBSTADT, Ind. (AP) — Kids carefully hold compound bows and line up behind orange cones in the gym of Haubstadt Community School. They give full attention to their teacher, Scott VanMeter, who is teaching archery basics.

It would be an ordinary scene except for one fearless girl: Taengkwa Sturgell.

She doesn't let anything stop her, including blindness. She recently began learning archery at the school with the rest of her seventh-grade class.

The 13-year-old was born with retinopathy of prematurity. She can see shadows and light. Sturgell was adopted from Thailand at age 5 by her parents, Jeanette and Dave Sturgell.

Her mom wasn't surprised that Sturgell wanted to give archery a go.

“Oh no, she's not scared of a lot,” Jeanette told the Evansville Courier & Press.

Sturgell has an older brother and two older sisters. All the children, including Taengkwa, show cattle. Jeanette said they try not to limit their daughter.

“We try not to hold her back,” Jeanette said. “If it's possible, she does it.”

Sturgell gets support from her teachers and classmates at Haubstadt Community School. Alexis Heichelbech and Mattie Speicher are two of Sturgell's friends who help her, especially when she's shooting a bow.

“Everybody does really well with her,” Jeanette said. “They don't know school without her.”

Sturgell has attended Haubstadt Community School full-time since first grade.

“I really, really enjoy shooting,” Sturgell said.

In VanMeter's physical education class, Taengkwa was game to try shooting a bow with help from her classmates. She wasn't nervous at all.

Other students depend on sight to line up their shots, but Sturgell uses her hearing. VanMeter attaches a small device, called a sound localizer, to the back of Sturgell's 80-centimeter target. Even with the echo effect inside a gymnasium, Sturgell is able to determine which target is hers.

“Her sense of sound is a lot better than yours and mine,” VanMeter said. “She's special.”

Sturgell said she is able to block out some of the echo in the gym when she's trying to hone in on her target.

“The cool thing is she does everything everybody else does,” VanMeter said. “They (students) don't treat her any different.”

The bows and the arrows meet requirements set by the National Archery in the Schools Program. VanMeter said he has no problems getting his students to adhere to safety protocols.

“They just know if they don't do what they're supposed, they don't get to shoot,” he said. “And they do want to shoot.”

The archery program started two years ago as part of a grant for the Gibson Southern Archery team.

The grant stipulates there must be an archery program in the schools and the students must shoot 10 days out of the school year for five years, according to archery coach and school resource officer Tim Speedy. Speedy is a part-time deputy with the Gibson County Sheriff's office.

“The tournaments are kind of an extra,” Speedy said. “The heart of the goal is to expose all the kids in PE. Most of them have probably never shot a bow before.”

Speedy said there were students at Gibson Southern High School who wanted to participate in tournaments hosted by NASP. The principal asked Speedy and two other school resource officers to be coaches.

He said he reluctantly agreed, not knowing just how many kids wanted to participate.

“The first day we had signups, 109 kids signed up,” Speedy said. “And it just blew up from there.”

Gibson County Reserve Deputy and school resource officer Jonathan Sprinkle said the program is a big commitment on the part of the schools because archeryhad to be added into the curriculum and teachers had to attend training.

“If it wasn't for the relationship with our club and the three schools building this into their curriculum, we wouldn't have a club,” Sprinkle said.

Shooting arrows helps Sturgell do more than improve her skills.

“I feel confident,” Sturgell said.

Heichelbech said she loves archery and she enjoys helping her friend line up her feet and arms.

“She tries everything,” Heichelbech said.

She has seen Sturgell participate in sports before but was a little surprised Sturgell wanted to try archery.

Sturgell's plans include attending summer archery camp and shooting as part of the team next year. The coaches would like to build her a special stand like one they saw online that was used by another blind archer.

The noise at tournaments might hinder Sturgell from locating her target, so the coaches want to build a U-shaped device out of metal tubing to let Sturgell know where her feet should be. A girl in Kentucky has the device, and Speedy said she shoots very well.

“She flat burns it up with that thing,” Speedy said. “She is a good shot.”


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com


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