HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Hill recently hosted a Paralympic Archery Training Camp and one athlete came with hopes of improving his archery skills and a dream to someday become part of the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team and the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo, Japan.
Cpl. Thomas (T.J.) Gilman is attached to Wounded Warrior Battalion West out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif., and spent four years as a tank mechanic with the Marines before being injured a year ago in a training exercise accident where he lost his left hand due to a defective round.
While going through rehabilitation, the Omak, Wash., native participated in a program called the Warrior Athlete Recondition Program to learn adaptive sports. Gilman saw archery was one of the sports offered and because he had hunted with a bow as a teenager, he figured he would jump in on the opportunity.
He said having that prior experience and muscle memory helped him pick up the sport again quickly. He earned a spot at the Marine Corps Trials, and eventually the 2018 Defense Department Warrior Games held in June at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Spring, Colo.
“Really, the biggest thing to get used to was the attachment on my socket and having a plastic part instead of having my physical grip touching the bow,” Gilman said.
Gilman uses an adaptive prosthetic fitted onto his forearm that allows him to hold the bow.
“Time. That’s all you can use to overcome our issues anyone of us have,” said Gilman about his and other camp participants’ disabilities. “It just takes time, will and the need that basically burns in you to overcome the bad that has happened.”
Gilman said Dan Govier, one of the Paralympic Archery Training Camp coaches he worked with previously, invited him to participate in the camp at Hill AFB, not only to keep improving his skills, but also to get a chance to work with another camp coach, Lance Thornton. Thornton is a member of the Paralympic U.S. Archery Team and is also a hand amputee archer.
Gilman said brushing up, as well as learning new and different techniques from a coach with both a same and different perspective will hopefully bring him one step closer to his dream.
Both Gilman and Thornton use the compound bow.
“With my compound guys I’m working with, I’m just making sure they have solid consistent anchor points, because archery is all repetition,” said Thornton. “You want to do the same thing every time with the same goal. When (an athlete’s) shot process is where it’s supposed to be, I just let them do their thing.”
Gilman said his first shot will usually tell him how the rest of his shots will go.
“It’s a physical challenge, but that’s only 10 percent,” he said. “The rest is all mental. Your whole mental game is whether you are going shoot well or you are going to shoot badly.
“And there’s also the mental challenge of being able to overcome from being in an accident where I no longer have my hand anymore and thinking what am I going to do … and then getting involved with (archery) and seeing what I am really am capable of doing.”
The camp falls under the Paralympic Military Program, which was launched by the United States Olympic Committee in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and funded through USA Archery with the Adapted Sports Grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the DOD.