Pooja Jatyan has had polio since she was 5 and says living with the disease was hard when she was young Image Credit: Imran Malik / Gulf News

Dubai: The Dubai Club for People of Determination is hosting the World Archery Para Championships where 16 world champions in four categories will be crowned this week. It’s a glorious day, the sky is a deep blue and the grass a juicy green and I’m sitting in the practice area watching the professionals.

To my left is Great Britain’s Phoebe Patterson Pine, MBE. She has spina bifida and dug deep to win the gold medal in the women’s individual compound open at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympics. I manage to congratulate her as she heads off with several coaches for her qualifying round and that’s when my attention is directed to a young woman practising alone in the far corner. She’s wearing a Team India jersey and her light blue recurve Wiawis bow looks almost as big as her. She hoists it up, pulls back on the bowstring and with her torso straight up and collar bone parallel to the arrow, she releases it. It whistles through the air before smacking the inner bullseye 70 metres away with a thump. Her quiver contains six more and they all hit the middle. As she sits down for a rest, I walk over to say hello. “I’m Pooja Jatyan,” she smiles and we soon get talking about everything from food to music and then the 24-year-old discusses the challenges of having polio.

Negative remarks

Pooja has had polio since she was 5 and says living with the disease was hard when she was young. “I did not want to go out, attend weddings, or anything like that because people would always stare at me and make negative remarks, but the sympathetic comments did not help either. I just wanted to fit in and be accepted for who I am, but I wasn’t able to through no fault of my own. So, I decided to stay indoors and avoid people, which I know wasn’t healthy but it felt like my only option,” she says.

One day, while watching TV, she discovered para archery and it changed her life. “I couldn’t do athletics and I didn’t want to study and that’s when I thought I could give para archery a go. It is a passion and you need a lot of determination, patience and love for this sport.”

Pooja's next big competition is right here in Dubai and she is currently flying in 4th spot. She’ll have one-to-one, individual and mixed team matches on the 27th and is quietly confident of winning gold. Image Credit: Imran Malik / Gulf News

She also made several friends when she started playing in 2011. At that stage she was still unaware that there were para archery events in her hometown of Haryana and was competing with able-bodied athletes, whom she regularly beat. Then she completed trials and was selected by India for the 2018 Asian Para Games. “I was over the moon but unfortunately when the time came to compete, I let myself down. I wasn’t able to concentrate even though I gave 100 per cent.” She explains the conditions were not the easiest as it was windy and she lacked self-belief. “But I didn’t give up and kept practising and improving and trained for the 2020 Paralympics in Japan.” And she would have been there, had she not missed out on qualification by 1 solitary point. “It was devastating – I really wanted to represent India at the tournament,” she says.

Her next big competition is right here in Dubai and she is currently flying in 4th spot and Team India in 2nd. She’ll have one-to-one, individual and mixed team matches on the 27th and is quietly confident of winning gold.

Her confidence off the field is stronger too, and instead of avoiding people as she did in those difficult, early years, she is now happily married with a baby daughter.

Incredibly, Pooja is the only sports-mad member of her family and easily the most active. Her brothers and sisters are all either studying or working and have no interest in sporting activities. However, they are proud of their sister and support her all the way, which is fortunate since she is very dedicated to her sport. “I practise 8 hours daily and I love it. I am only 24 and I feel I can play this sport for years to come,” she says.

Special shoes

Pooja’s says she has a mental toughness and just gets on with things, no matter how challenging they get. “I have a lot of pain in my legs, back and neck. I wear a special pair of shoes when I am competing as my left leg is shorter than my right leg. But there are people with far greater challenges than mine,” she says, as we watch American Matt Stutzman, who was born without arms and uses his legs and feet in archery. The 39-year-old sits in a chair then uses a strap around his chest that lets him grab the arrow. To draw back the bow, he pushes his leg away from his chest. Then sets himself and releases. Watching the determination and seeing the amazing results from athletes like Matt is nothing short of incredible. He holds a world record for the longest accurate shot in the sport – not to mention silver medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, 2014 Phoenix Arizona Cup and 2015 Toronto Parapan American Games.

To succeed at any competitive sport requires incredible skill and dedication, however the determination of these athletes to overcome challenges is even more impressive. I’m truly humbled by everything I have seen here today and as I thank Pooja for her time and wish her the best in the tournament, she leaves me with a touching message. “People must explore what activities are out there for them to try, nothing should stop them from competing and participating. They should never feel left out.”

What is para archery?

It is the discipline for athletes classified with a physical or visual impairment. The rules for targets, competition format and matchplay are the same as for the target archery and indoor archery disciplines. In addition to the recurve and compound categories, para archery also has a W1 category for athletes with a severe impairment and a visually impaired category.

Para archers often use assistive devices, such as custom draw or release aids, mouth tabs or wheelchairs, to level the playing field. Classified athletes may also compete with able-bodied athletes in target archery events using their assistive devices.

Competition categories

Para archers can compete with a recurve bow in the recurve open category and with a compound bow in the compound open category.

Para archers in the W1 category may use either a recurve or a compound bow with limitations on draw weight, a restriction on magnified sights and other changes to the standard rules. The rules for targets, competition and matchplay for W1 archers are largely the same as for compound archers.

Visually impaired archers are split into two categories (VI1 and VI2/3) depending on the severity of their impairment.


The process of classification provides a structure for para archery competition. The system defines whether an athlete can use an assistive device, decides whether they are eligible to compete in para archery and groups eligible athletes by the severity of their impairment to create a level playing field.


Archery was used as a rehabilitation activity for injured veterans by Dr Ludwig Guttmann - regarded as the founder of the Paralympic movement - at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the 1940s.

He held the first archery tournament at the hospital in 1948 with 16 athletes. The competition was run annually and in 1952 a Dutch team participated, setting the foundations for an international event and acting as a precursor to the Paralympic Games.