Archer off-target but right on mark with life

For so many reasons, German archer Michael Bartscher should never had reached 60.

But he celebrated the milestone in July this year making him the oldest male competitor at the 2018 Sydney Invictus Games. Canada’s Cavell Simmonds, at 67, pipped him for being the most senior of the 500 competitors from 18 countries.

“It’s like they say ‘It’s just a number’ and now I’m used to it. I was the oldest one in recumbent bikes (cycling event last Sunday), and I was the oldest one in swimming, and now here in archery,” he said.

“I think it’s better to be the oldest one and not the last one. I know I can’t be the first in my events but I’m also not the last either.”

Bartscher actually finished in the top-10 in both the time trial and criterium around the Royal Botanic Gardens on Sunday.

When you think what Brigadier-General Bartscher has been through, he’s just pleased to reach a sixth decade especially to survive the last four years.

So let’s briefly recap what this soldier has endured – being shot in the right leg, being in a high-speed military vehicle accident, and then a motorbike accident back home in Germany.

That most recent mishap left him with fractures in his C4 and C5 neck vertebrae, a broken sternum, five broken ribs – one which punctured his lung.

He was in a coma for 10 days and it took six months of rehabilitation to get him back to where he could stand up straight and fire arrows at a 60-centimetre target, 18 metres away.

“I only started archery in April this year. So unfortunately I had little time to train,” he said on Thursday, after competing in the qualifying rounds for the Novice Recurve event.

“I only had two camps for three days each. I really find it fun because you learn to control the body and mind and calm down enough to shoot well.”

Bartscher’s scores were not high enough to get into the individual medal rounds on Friday at the Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre. But he has learned so much from his first and only Invictus Games.

“Due to my rank I’m sure I won’t go to another one. Being a general it’s not good to go two times – give another guy a chance to have this wonderful experience,” he said.

“The camaraderie of all the nations here is something quite special. This kind of comradeship I found in Afghanistan too.”

He also found pain and heartache. Bartscher was wounded – shot in his right leg by an Afghan solider – in August 2014.

“There were a lot of British, Americans, some Afghans but I was the only German. We were standing outside a (military) training academy as a group after a meeting and suddenly a soldier came out of the building shooting.”

American Major General Harold J. Greene was shot dead becoming the highest-ranking member of the NATO-led coalition killed in the Afghanistan war.

Another 14 officers were wounded in the “friendly fire” attack including Bartscher. The Afghan shooter was also killed.

Bartscher spent 10 days in a field hospital and then was sent home to Germany.

“When I was home I thought about my comrades back in Afghanistan so I went back.”

Then he was in a German military vehicle in June 2015, which crashed on a routine trip. He hurt his neck experiencing some nerve damage, which caused him to lose some sensation down his right side.

“I have this sort of imbalance so that’s why I ride a recumbent (lying down) bike,” he said.

He was sent home to Germany a second time. He has not returned to any combat zones although he is still employed in the military.

The final stroke of bad luck was buying a new motorcycle for personal pleasure.

“I had a motorbike previously for 38 years and had no accidents. Then because of the nerve problem I have I lost control and crashed five weeks after I bought the new bike.”

That’s when he broke his neck, sternum and ribs. But he cycled and swam to help his physical recovery – the archery was to challenge himself a bit more.

“And here I am. I hope to be around for a little while yet.”

Margie McDonald
Invictus Games Sydney 2018