Courier Staff Writer
If your skin is the same color as someone else, it doesn’t automatically make you the same. Nor does a different skin color automatically make you different.
“When you first talk to people about diversity, they think right away of skin color,” said Freddy Miranda, director of international affairs at Indian Hills Community College. “But diversity is more than that.”
He, along with a group of community members from the Ottumwa area, organized the 2013 Diversity Conference on the IHCC campus.
They wanted participants to understand there’s more to diversity than race.
A group comprised of African-American, Asian, Latino and Anglo friends may have a lot in common. A group of white kids sorted into a classroom by last name might have some huge differences.
“It can be a homogeneous group, but there’s still diversity,” Miranda said.
That point was made more real by Friday’s keynote speaker, Matt Stutzman, an athlete from Fairfield.
Stutzman bills himself as “The Armless Archer.”
“As you can see,” he told a crowd that Miranda estimated to be near 700, “I have no arms. I do tell stories and joke about not having any arms, so it is OK to laugh.”
Stutzman, born without arms, has competed against individuals with disabilities, and those without. He refers to some archers as “cheating” because they have arms. He uses his feet for everything.
In first grade, his parents got him a pair of prosthetic (or what he called “fake”) arms. He barely used them.
“I don’t need arms,” he told the audience. “That’s not who I am.”
He is, however, an internationally respected competitive archer, a husband, father and auto enthusiast who said he can change a tire in 30 seconds.
“There were 20 other babies ... when my parents adopted me. They all had arms.”
It was only recently, he claimed, that he began to understand why he was chosen.
“I have a 9-month-old son. He has arms. He reached over and grabbed my entire salad before I could do anything about it. He wants to stick his fingers in electrical outlets, pick his nose, get his fingers slammed in drawers. I must have been a very [easy baby] to take care of.”
That’s why they chose me, he said. These days, he feeds himself, dresses and drives using his feet. His car is a normal, unmodified vehicle.
He’s also bowhunted deer, which is how he became interested in archery. He shoots a bow and arrow using his feet. During a precision archery demonstration at Friday’s conference, he loaded an arrow and drew the bow string with his feet.
He told a story about being stopped by the police while driving. It was dark, so because of his appearance, the police officer behind him seemed to think Stutzman was hiding something.
The officer spoke into his patrol car PA system.
“Sir, put your hands where I can see them!”
This had never happened to him before. Finally, he turned his head toward the window and called out, “I don’t have hands.” When there was no response from behind him, and wanting to be helpful, he called out, “I can show you my feet.”
He didn’t get a ticket.
Friday’s visit didn’t involve telling the audience lesson after lesson about success, or hard work, or discrimination or even about diversity. The man himself was the lesson.
“Don’t give up,” said Makenzie Jewett, 18, a Centerville IHCC nursing student who stood in a long line after the presentation for the chance to meet the archer. “I watched him on TV at [London’s Para-] Olympics. My friends said they couldn’t do what he does. I can’t do that, and I have arms.”
Stutzman couldn’t do it, either — at least not at first. He participated in a tournament about four years ago. He did poorly. Still, a few days after the tournament, he got an endorsement offer from a bow company.
“I’ll take some free stuff!” he recalled thinking at the time.
Then, a tactless but honest friend rained on his parade.
“My jerk friend said, ‘You know they only sponsored you because you have no arms, and it draws attention to their product ... not because you’re good.’”
That may have hurt, but it also forced him to set a goal to be the best archer he could be. And he had a plan to reach that goal.
“For three years, I shot eight hours a day. I didn’t want to be ... a sideshow, a gimmick. I didn’t want to be sponsored by a bow company because I have no arms. I shot [thousands] of arrows.”
“I believed Matt Stutzman to be unstoppable,” Miranda said after the presentation when asked why organizers chose Stutzman.
Besides helping to show the different types of diversity, he said, a guy like Matt teaches people they will be more successful if they stop making excuses.
“Make a plan for how you will achieve your goal,” Miranda said. “A goal without a plan is just a dream.”
But there’s another requirement, Stutzman said. The people around us need to open their minds. The cliché that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover is true, he said, when it comes to him and many other people.
“My parents, my basketball coach, BP [oil company], all gave me a chance to prove myself. You never know who someone is by looking at them,” he said.