Madeline Delp, Ms. Wheelchair USA, takes aim at self-doubt during trip to National Ability Center
On Thursday, Ms. Wheelchair U.S.A. Madeline Delp, 24, crossed Park City off her schedule for her nationwide Boundless tour, a campaign to inspire people to test their limits.
The two-day stop at the National Ability Center was a perfect fit for Delp – both have goals of helping people of all abilities overcome their challenges. And the day’s activity – adaptive archery – was itself a good fit, given just how adaptable it is, said Alma Stewart, an archery instructor at the NAC and an acquaintance of Delp’s
At around 11 a.m., Stewart, who uses a wheelchair, and Jim Southwick, who does not, were waiting in the hallway outside Delp’s room at the NAC, to give her a demonstration in adaptive archery. Stewart said archery is a sport that transcends ability particularly well.
“We have ways that, if (an archer’s) hand strength is weak and they can’t really grip it, we can put a trigger device on that they can pull back with just their arm and release,” he added. “There are people that have no arms at all and shoot with just their legs, using their mouth to hold that string back.”
The 24-year-old North Carolina native’s grip strength was unaffected by her injury, a bruised spinal cord, sustained in a car accident she was in at age 10 when a truck hit the rear driver’s side of the car she was in, crushing it around her.
She emerged from her room in a pink top and black athletic pants, and joined the instructors in the hallway while Southwick explained the advent of adaptive archery. It began with the Mandeville Stoke National Spinal Injuries Centre in England, established during World War II to treat wounded servicemen.
“One of the first things they started doing to give them a recreational activity was archery,” Southwick said. “And in 1948, in conjunction with the London Olympics, they had the Stoke Mandeville Games, which was primarily archery, and that’s really the ancestor of the Paralympic Games. They just continued to grow and grow from that point, but archery was the focus of the initial Paralympics.”
Southwick then showed Delp a clip of archery at the Rio Paralympic Games — “For a little bit of inspiration and, also, just to get a look at what it looks like when it’s done properly,” he said.
He noted the position of the archer’s drawing elbow, which was straight back from her jaw.
Delp drew up an imaginary bow in the form Southwick had showed her, turning perpendicular to her wheelchair.
“I kind of like this,” she said.
Delp, who had never shot an arrow before, has been broadening her horizons a lot lately. With the help of guides, she’s recently been surfing, rock climbing and BASE jumping as part of the tour.
“I do a lot of things that are really out there — that are a very sensational representation of Boundless,” she said. “But the main idea being that we all overcome our fears in our own way.”
After the accident, Delp said there was a long stretch of her life when she felt severely limited by her wheelchair. She said she was also dealing with the trauma of losing her ability to walk, and the emotional fallout from the crash itself and the separation of her parents.
Delp said that during her senior year of high school, she started to feel like others’ low expectations of her were keeping her back.
“I wanted to see what my potential was,” she said.
So she started challenging herself in small ways, starting with participating in the school’s German club. She said the German language became one of her first big passions, and fell in love with speaking it enough that she studied abroad in Germany twice during her undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina Asheville. While studying abroad, she conducted research on accessibility in the country, which was eventually used by one of the towns she stayed in to prepare for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
“It actually ended up affecting the lives of other people,” she said, reflecting on her decision to join German club. “It was a very real experience for me of how these little things can grow and snowball into something you wouldn’t have thought was possible.”
In college she started to become interested in pageantry as a way to enter the philanthropic world and to develop a platform for sharing her newfound enthusiasm for pushing personal limits.
In 2016 she won the Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina pageant, then last year she won the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant.
Now, her Boundless tour has more than 20 stops around the U.S., where Delp is talking to civic groups like Rotary Club International. She had just come from Mt. Rushmore, where she talked to U.S, National Park rangers about wheelchair access and went climbing.
“I didn’t know I was afraid of heights until I was 200 feet up,” she said.
At the National Ability Center, Southwick and Stewart walked her through some warm-up exercises, helped determine her eye dominance, then put a pink camouflage compound bow in her hands.
“The Olympians shoot 70 meters,” Southwick said. “We’re starting at five, but it’s a start.”
Delp nocked an arrow, took aim, and released.
“I hit it!” She cried. It had stuck in the top left corner of the target.
She then shot four more arrows, all of which stuck in the same area — high and left.
Stewart and Southwick helped her adjust her shot, telling her to compensate by aiming down and to the right.
The next arrow Delp shot stuck in the red circle, just outside the bullseye.
“I’m aiming off the target at this point,” she said.
A few shots later, she hit the bullseye.
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