The archers line up and shoot their arrows into the air. Some land on the stretch of grass surrounding the targets, others on the white, black, blue, red or yellow circles. After a few more attempts, the members of the Stanford archery team walk over to collect their arrows.
One archer, Matt Cooper ’14, follows a rope tied between his stand–emblazoned with “Competitive Archery sees no limits”–and the target. He collects his arrows, stows them in his belt and follows the rope back to his stand, where he positions his feet between two markers on the grass, a modification made to suit archery equipment to the needs of the visually impaired.
Cooper is the first blind member of Stanford’s archery team. With training and equipment from Courtney and Janice Walth, a couple from Lodi, Calif. who specialize in visually impaired archery, he has been practicing the sport since early this school year.
“He’s very self-driven,” said Stanford archery coach Francis Parchaso. “He approached me wanting to join the team.”
Cooper uses the same equipment as sighted archers, with the exception of the foot markers to orient him in the correct direction. There are also differences in the distance of the targets for visually impaired archers. The technique, however, is very much the same.
“It’s about repetitive motion, learning how to do the same thing over and over again,” Parchaso said. “In a sense what he does is more forgiving because he’s less likely to…second-guess himself.”
Second-guessing himself doesn’t seem to be a problem for the enterprising freshman. He has already declared his major–Science, Technology and Society (STS)–, impressed his dorm mates with his skills at table tennis and pool and set up a personal recording studio in his room in Freshman-Sophomore College (FroSoCo).
A self-described music lover, Cooper enjoys mixing new songs on a program called Cakewalk Sonar and then playing his music on massive speakers in his room. Though he usually relies on the electronic sounds pre-recorded on the software, he recently recorded a song with friends, in which each person created different sounds that he mixed together.
Just as he has found ways to adapt archery and music recording to his advantage, he has created a “seamless modus operandi” for his coursework, according to Robert McGinn, professor of STS and Management Science and Engineering (MS&E).
All of Cooper’s textbooks are translated into Braille for him and he has a printer in his room that converts texts to Braille. His computer reads text back to him and he uses a device called a Braille Note with a Braille keyboard that he uses to take notes and write papers. Professors send his exams to the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), where they are converted into Braille. According to the OAE, approximately 19 of the 938 undergraduates registered with the OAE are visually impaired.
“Matt is a case in point for the influence of technology and science on society, but it’s not as if it’s only the technology,” McGinn said. “It’s the technology working in conjunction with the personality and drive of the individual.”
Cooper has a guide dog named Loti who responds to commands only in French, by nature of the fact that she was trained in Quebec. Cooper was 11 when he got Loti. However, most guide dog schools only provide the animals to people over 18.
Cooper’s independence stands out to his professors, coaches and teammates.
“It’s really impressive what he’s doing,” said Eric Feldman ’12, a member of the archery team. “It’s just an inspiration to shoot around him.”
McGinn echoed Feldman’s praise.
“One has to admire an individual like Matt who is doing so well in his academic coursework and has an incredible will and determination, as well as intellect,” he said.
But Cooper is quick to share the credit for his success, describing his contribution to blazing a new trail in archery as one “where we’re all paving the way together.”
“It’s a group effort,” he added.
Cooper’s humility doesn’t surprise Emily Palmer, one of his high school classmates.
“Matt has an incredible sense of empathy,” she said. “He doesn’t put himself above other people. In high school, we were all blown away by his accomplishments…but he wasn’t self-centered.”
“He’d point out other people’s strengths,” she added.
Cooper is preparing to compete in three archery tournaments this summer in Sacramento in a division for the visually impaired. Courtney Walsh has high hopes for his performance.
“If Matt keeps it up, he could go to World’s [World Archery Championship] in the next three to four years,” Walsh projected.
For his own part, Cooper shrugs at the praise he’s received.
“Everybody else says, ‘It’s amazing; it’s great.’ And I say, ‘You know what? It’s life,’” he said. “What else am I going to do? It’s blaze a trail or sit in my dorm room all day.”
Aliza Rosen contributed to this article.