Hillsborough woman finds passion for archery after brutal attack leaves her paralyzed from chest down

To be successful in the sport of archery, a competitor must have mental strength, balance and coordination as well as self confidence in their ability to aim and hit the bullseye.

Tracy Otto, 27, has mastered those skills and hopes her story will serve as an inspiration to others. Finding archery helped her find herself again. When she’s in the moment, nothing else matters. 

"It just becomes really quiet, and I don’t have to think about anything else around me, and it’s a relief in a sense," Otto said. 

Archery was something Otto always wanted to try and a quick Google search put her on a path to honing in on that passion. 

"We were driving down the highway, and I went on Google and looked for an adaptive sports program, and The All People’s Center came up, and it just went from there," smiled Otto.

Tracy Otto back in 2019 before she and her boyfriend were attacked. 

Otto sharpens her archery skills three days a week at All People’s Life Center in Hillsborough County. Her boyfriend Rick Riessle is always by her side.

"The bond we have, we've been at the hip for 3 years," Otto said. "Literally he has to do everything because I don’t have the hand function to do a lot of things, so he is not only my boyfriend and the love of my life, but he’s also my lifeline. You know without him a lot of things wouldn’t happen."

Riessle smiled, "I’m her hairdresser, her cook, bath buddy."  

Riessle is also Otto's arrow agent at all her tournaments. But before she takes aim, she has to be strapped in to her custom-made archery equipment. This is the third design she's used since picking up the sport just two years ago.

"They used this same system that’s on my wrist, it’s a camera shutter cable for flexibility connected to this clothes pin like apparatus and I bite down on it, and it releases the arrow that way," Otto said. 

The bow itself weighs less than five pounds, but each time she pulls back, she's pulling 38 pounds. She does it dozens of times. 

"For me, I hook, take a deep breath, remind myself that everything is going to be okay we got this, and I draw, I set, and I exhale," she explained. "In that moment is when everything is really quiet I’m not really thinking about anything it’s just me and my equipment and the goal in mind and that’s when I release."

The goal for Otto is to make Team USA. It’s quite the goal for anyone, but when you consider what she's been through, you'll realize she’s as tough as they come. 

"It comes in my head frequently, more than I would like to admit, just because it was such a traumatic experience and post-traumatic stress is very real," Otto said. "There are things that trigger me here and there."  

In Fall 2019, Otto and Riessle were asleep in her Riverview home when her ex-boyfriend broke in armed with a pellet gun and a knife. 

Tracy and her boyfriend Rick Riessle after the attack at their Riverview home. 

"He said ‘I’m going to kill you both and either kill myself or call the police,’" said Riessle.

Francpiero Del Medico shot Riessle eight times and stabbed him in the back puncturing his lung. He shot Otto five times, including in her eye, stabbed her and sexually assaulted her with the pellet gun.

"Next thing I knew I came back to, and he was standing above me on the phone. I don't think he knew I was alive, because he walked out of the room saying he had just killed two people and that he'd be in the driveway," explained Riessle. 

"The EMT’s jumped her once or twice on scene, and they said I would have bled out in about 10 minutes," Riessle said. 

Otto's injuries left her paralyzed from the chest down. She underwent intense rehab and Riessle has been by her side as her caretaker ever since. 

"Something about it just, I don’t know. He’s my best friend, it’s amazing. It’s nothing like I’ve ever had with anyone ever," explained Otto. 

Del Medico was sentenced to 40 years back in January, allowing Otto and Riessle to put that part of their lives behind them. Now, they're laser focused on making the 2024 Paralympic team.

Otto hopes her story inspires others who've survived domestic violence attacks.

"You’ve got to keep going. Rebuilding is possible and figuring out what you need to do and how to get there is possible. You just have to want it and be passionate about life and helping others," smiled Otto. 

Otto and Riessle just wrapped up the Arizona Cup trials where she set a new personal record of 473 and took third in the Wheelchair One division. Her next stop is San Antonio for the Texas regionals where she’ll need to score a 520 to qualify for the next stop in the Czech Republic.