WALLKILL—When asked how he felt about winning his class in the World Series equivalent of archery, 8-year-old Town of Wallkill resident Jeffrey Paes had one word.
If his response seems lackluster, it’s because at this point in this barely 8-month archery career, he’s become accustomed to winning.
He came first in his class in the International Bowhunting Organization’s (IBO) New York State Championship, Connecticut State Championship, the Connecticut Archery Association’s Marked Yardage State Championship, and took second in the New England Championship earlier this summer.
His father, Joe Paes, said he might have done better in the New England Championship, but he only competed in the second day of the two-day tournament and it was the first time Jeffrey had shot in the rain.
His collection of trophies is starting to grow, currently at four belt buckles, three medals and a plaque, and along with it, interest from sponsors.
Jeffrey’s mother, Jennifer Costello, just started a Facebook fan page at the suggestion of one of his sponsors, and his regular Facebook page, which she manages, is already full of pictures of Jeffrey with big names in the archery world.
Winning his class at the IBO World Championships, which took place Aug. 12-14 in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, it seems, is just the beginning.
The fact that Jeffrey has accomplished so much in archery is, his parents acknowledge, a strange twist of fate after a diagnosis in December of 2014 forever changed his life and theirs.
Jeffrey has type 1 Long QT Syndrome, or LQT1, which affects the electrical system of the heart, resulting in a potentially fatal, irregular heartbeat.
LQT1 is not detectable except through an electrocardiogram (EKG). Jeffrey was lucky, his parents say—they had him tested for some discoloration around his mouth, and while it led to the diagnosis, they were told it was unrelated to LQT1.
There is no known cure for the condition, although there are medications that can help. As a precaution, Jeffrey’s cardiologist gave him a list of triggers, things like intense physical activity, sudden arousal from sleep, and strong emotion, that he should avoid.
Since his diagnosis, he has given up lacrosse, Tae Kwon Do, and baseball, among other activities, not an easy adjustment for an active third-grader, his mother said.
How it all Started
About a year after Jeffrey’s diagnosis around Christmas last year, Joe and Costello were shopping at Gander Mountain, a store in the Town of Wallkill that sells hunting apparel and outdoor wear, when Costello suggested they get Jeffrey a bow.
“I was saying ‘I don’t know,’ you know. ‘I don’t know if he’s going to be able to pull it,'” Joe recalled.
They ended up buying it. Jeffrey was able to lift it, and after a little practice, proved adept at using it.
At first he started just practicing with his family, but as he became more serious, he started working with a coach. One thing led to another, and soon he was competing in tournaments, and winning them.
For the second time since he started shooting last December, Jeffrey, while shooting at the IBO World Championship, hit a bullseye with his first arrow, then put his second arrow in the first arrow’s shaft, a move known as a “Robin Hood.”
“When he saw it hit, he starts screaming, and everybody’s looking like he got shot,” Joe recalled. He said this was the first Robin Hood at the tournament.
They considered moving him from the Future Bowhunters class, which is 8-year-olds and younger, to the Cub class, which is 9 to 12-year-olds because of how advanced he was, but didn’t at the advice of the organizers.
That was a disappointing decision, both for Jeffrey and his competition.
For one, the children he was competing against, some almost half his age, were allowed to stand as close as five yards to the target. Jeffrey, who has been steadily increasing the difficulty of his training, has been practicing from as far away as 25 yards.
This angered at least one dad, according to Joe, whose daughter was paired with Jeffrey during the tournament and who had a hard time maintaining her concentration with Jeffrey next to her.
“Her father started screaming and yelling at me,” Joe said. “He said. ‘Your son shouldn’t be in this class.'”
The other unsavory part about being in the Future Bowhunter (FBH) category for Jeffrey was that his score, which his parents say was a perfect 100, was never recorded, and the only recognition he received for his big win was verbal acknowledgement from the organizers and a medal that all the other children got.
His reward, in the end, was the crowd of pro archers who came to watch him shoot after word got around that an 8-year old was shooting on par with the adults.
He’d never had that many people watch him before, his parents said. Seeing his legs shaking from nervousness, Joe told him to keep his eye on the target and to make sure he shot first when he got into place. He did, and he shot a perfect 11, the highest score on the target.
“He turns with the biggest smile on his face [and] he goes ‘I got this,'” Joe said. “And all the pros behind him said, ‘He’s got it.'”
And if he continues to “get it” he may one day give them a run for their money.
“A lot of people are saying now,” Joe said, “that if he likes it and continues with it in the future, they believe that he’ll probably be one of the best in the country.”
When asked what he would like to do with his archery career, Jeffrey, without hesitation, said he would like to compete in the Olympics. He’s practicing for his next big tournament now, the Las Vegas Shoot in February, which is similar to the IBO World Championship, but put on by the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) instead.
In the shorter term, Costello said they are working on doing an archery fundraiser for the American Heart Association, both to raise money and raise the profile of the sport in the area.
“He would like to make it more [common] in this area, because everybody can shoot a bow,” Costello said. “Everybody.”
Already Jeffrey and his parents have started “Shoot from the Heart,” a club for people, mostly children, who want to learn archery no matter what their physical limitations or talents may be.
It has been meeting since April, but with all the travel they’ve been doing for tournaments, it’s been on hiatus.
Now that the IBO World Championship is behind them, Jeffrey and his parents hope to start it up again.
One thing competing has done is open their eyes to how equalizing the sport is.
The IBO World Championship had a class specifically for archers with a condition listed in the Americans with Disabilities Act, called the Physically Challenged Bowhunters (PCBH) class.
A man named Austin Jones from Mayville, Michigan, who was born with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, came first in this class.
Todd Mead, a man from Queensbury, New York who has type 1 diabetes and came in third in the Bowhunter Release (MBR) category wrote about Jeffrey on his blog after watching him shoot at Worlds.
“Jeffrey Paes, thank you for showing me that there are other people like me who battle hidden diseases every day. When I meet people like you, it makes me realize that we are all on the same team.”
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