JOLIET — Dugie Denton tipped his head to the side, steadied his bow, and waited.

Across his property, 70 meters away — roughly three-quarters the length of a football field — sat his target, a series of concentric blue, red and yellow circles, looking disconcertingly small. The wind stirred and he sat motionless, waiting, waiting, waiting and then released his arrow.

It zipped across his yard and struck the target with a solid thwack, landing in the yellow just outside the bull's-eye.

Denton followed the routine five more times. He's careful about how he tips his head — it aggravates a pinched nerve in his neck, darkening the vision in one of his eyes. But with the exception of one arrow, all his shots landed in the yellow — the color worth the most points.

Archery is about consistency, Denton likes to say. An archer who can stand at the line and get into the right rhythm will shoot straight every time.

"That's where you tell yourself, 'Repeat the shot,' " he said.

And it's what he'll be repeating in his head as he stands in front of his target in London next week for the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games.

Denton, 43, is a member of the U.S. national archery team and will be competing in the Paralympics this summer for the first time. An ambitious competitor, he's looking forward to the chance to show his skills.

But more than that, he's eager to don a uniform and once again wear the U.S. flag.

"This is just another way for me to represent my country again," he said.

An Army veteran, Denton last wore a uniform nearly two decades ago, before he was declared 100 percent disabled by Veterans Affairs.

His troubles first started in the back of a transport truck rumbling across the Arabian desert in the summer of 1993. Denton, riding along with a small group of fellow soldiers, were part of Operation Desert Shield.

They were Army mechanics and were trying to hoist a 50-caliber machine gun — a weapon so large it typically sits on a mount or a tripod and weighs close to 100 pounds.

Something happened and the other two soldiers lifting the gun lost their grip. Denton — sitting at the back end of the truck — kept his hold, but quickly lost his balance and pitched out the back still holding the gun. He landed on his head, gun on top of him, crunching the vertebrae in his neck and pinching a nerve that led to his right eye.

Months later, working on the engine of an M1 Abrams tank in the shop on base, a dropped cylinder head wrenched his back and crushed nearly every disc in his spine.

After a bullet through his ankle and a tank blast that left him deaf in one ear, Denton returned from Desert Shield battered. 

He spent nine months in therapy within the Veterans Affairs health care system, where he was ultimately honorably discharged and classified 100 percent disabled.

He was 30 years old.

"You can't retire a man at 30," said his wife, Cheryl. 

Returned home, Dugie found himself outdoors more and more, shooting his bow. Archery, and then finding ways to compete became an important outlet.

"It gives him something to do," Cheryl said. "This is important for him."

"It's life," Dugie said. "You just gotta keep going on."

Archery gave Dugie a focus and allowed him to find another way to connect with his children. His son, Dugan, as an 11-year-old in 2008, flew to Wales to compete in the World Field Archery Championships.  

And in the fall, they rarely miss a chance to go hunting. The family's love of archery was sparked by hunting.

"My dad was shooting in the '70s," Dugie said.

He learned it from his father and then passed that love and passion to his own sons and daughter.

And while that passion will carry Dugie to the Paralympics next week, it's far from lucrative.

Archery isn't a marque sport, and so he and his teammates — Dugie has been on the national team since 2009 — constantly scramble for sponsors and donations to help pay for competing expenses.

But Dugie scrambles and it does nothing to cool his ambition. He and Cheryl already have an eye on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Paralympic Games.

"We're gonna work for Rio," Cheryl said, smiling.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.