Florida Woman Finds Passion for Archery After Paralysis

May 4, 2023

To be successful in the sport of archery, a competitor must possess mental strength, balance, coordination, and self-confidence in their ability to aim and hit the bullseye. Tracy Otto, 27, who has quadriplegia, has mastered these skills and hopes her story will serve as an inspiration to others. After sustaining a spinal cord injury, she found adaptive archery, which helped her rediscover herself. When she is in the moment, nothing else matters.

“It just becomes really quiet, and I don’t have to think about anything else around me, and it’s a relief in a sense,” Otto said. 

Archery was something Otto always wanted to try and a quick Google search put her on a path to honing in on that passion. 

“We were driving down the highway, and I went on Google and looked for an adaptive sports program, and The All People’s Center came up, and it just went from there,” smiled Otto.

Otto sharpens her archery skills three days a week at All People’s Life Center in Hillsborough County. Her boyfriend Rick Riessle is always by her side.

“The bond we have, we’ve been at the hip for 3 years,” Otto said. “Literally he has to do everything because I don’t have the hand function to do a lot of things, so he is not only my boyfriend and the love of my life, but he’s also my lifeline. You know without him a lot of things wouldn’t happen.”

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Riessle smiled, “I’m her hairdresser, her cook, bath buddy.”  

Riessle is also Otto’s arrow agent at all her tournaments. But before she takes aim, she has to be strapped in to her custom-made archery equipment. This is the third design she’s used since picking up the sport just two years ago.

“They used this same system that’s on my wrist, it’s a camera shutter cable for flexibility connected to this clothes pin like apparatus and I bite down on it, and it releases the arrow that way,” Otto said. 

The bow itself weighs less than five pounds, but each time she pulls back, she’s pulling 38 pounds. She does it dozens of times. 

“For me, I hook, take a deep breath, remind myself that everything is going to be okay we got this, and I draw, I set, and I exhale,” she explained. “In that moment is when everything is really quiet I’m not really thinking about anything it’s just me and my equipment and the goal in mind and that’s when I release.”

The goal for Otto is to make Team USA. It’s quite the goal for anyone, but when you consider what she’s been through, you’ll realize she’s as tough as they come. 

“It comes in my head frequently, more than I would like to admit, just because it was such a traumatic experience and post-traumatic stress is very real,” Otto said. “There are things that trigger me here and there.”  

In Fall 2019, Otto and Riessle were asleep in her Riverview home when her ex-boyfriend broke in armed with a pellet gun and a knife and attacked the couple. The injuries Otto sustained resulted in quadriplegia.  

She underwent intense rehab and Riessle has been by her side as her caretaker ever since. 

“Something about it just, I don’t know. He’s my best friend, it’s amazing. It’s nothing like I’ve ever had with anyone ever,” explained Otto. 

“You’ve got to keep going,” Otto says. “Rebuilding is possible and figuring out what you need to do and how to get there is possible. You just have to want it and be passionate about life and helping others,” smiled Otto. 

Otto and Riessle just wrapped up the Arizona Cup trials where she set a new personal record of 473 and took third in the Wheelchair One division. Her next stop is San Antonio for the Texas regionals where she’ll need to score a 520 to qualify for the next stop in the Czech Republic.


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