A crowd gathers as Babette Peyton, sitting in her wheelchair, stares down at the target 50 yards away. Holding a compound bow with her right hand, a spotter places the nock of an arrow onto the string. She squints through the sight, sets her jaw firm, grabs the string, with her teeth, to slowly draw it back…Yup, with her teeth. Her eyes stay laser-focused on the bulls-eye down range; her jaw clamped down on a small piece of leather…42 lbs. of pressure with her teeth. Just a few more moments of concentration, then release. The arrow soars toward the target coming to a sudden halt inside the yellow. Another bulls-eye.
“In fall 2010, I was living in a nursing home,” said Babette, an Army Veteran and Chicago native. “They wanted to place me into hospice care. I said, isn’t that where people go to die? They said, not necessarily, but I still didn’t want to go.”
Friends, recognizing her depression, convinced her to attend a sports clinic in Newport, Rhode Island, put on by Paralympians. She attended somewhat reluctantly. It was an Archery camp.
“I was sitting on the sidelines, when this Paralympian Kevin Stone looked over,” remembered Babette. “He said to me, ‘no one comes to my clinic and sits on the sidelines.’ He talked me into trying archery. I hit the target the first time. I said, ‘I did that.’”
Did that she did, and that was just the beginning.
“I never went into hospice,” said Babette. “I got motivated about archery and life. I got involved with the local Vet Center, Disabled and homeless Veterans, helping them to find jobs and housing. You know, Veterans helping Veterans, then letting others help us. All you need is to be young at heart.”
After attending the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego in September 2011, Babette set her sights on a new goal—to be a Paralympian herself.
“I enjoyed competing,” she said smiling. “I attended an archery competition in December and then entered national and international competitions every month since leading up to the Wheelchair Games here in Richmond. I’ve even placed in a few of the competitions.”
These days, if Babette isn’t helping her fellow Veterans find work or an apartment, she’ll be on an archery range in Chicago practicing her craft 4-5 times a week. She’s easy to spot too. She starts every conversation with a huge smile and ends it by saying, ‘I love you.’
“I finally realized that I’m not going out of this world,” she exclaimed. “I’m just coming in.”
Jim Theres is a Public Affairs Officer at the G.V. (Sonny Montgomery) VA Medical Center.