By Kim Constantinesco
When Jeff Fabry takes aim, look out.
The 42-year-old archer from Lenmoore, Calif. knows the big stage well. He is heading to his fourth straight Paralympic Games this summer, targeting yet another medal.
After a motorcycle accident at 15 years old took most of his right arm and his right leg, Fabry picked up a bow “just to get back into the woods.”
He never thought, decades later, that the sport would be his every day life. He also never imagined that during his career as an archer, a sports photographer would snap a picture of him that would ultimately save his life.
Draw Back, Relax the Jaw
Fabry and a friend were riding their motorcycles one dark December night. Without any lights to guide their teenage energy, the two collided wildly on their bikes.
Fabry, who had to have his arm and his leg amputated, spent several months in the hospital recovering. Once he got out, he needed something to set his sights on. So, what better than a target?
As a kid, he knew how to shoot a bow, and even did a little hunting with one. Following the accident, he rediscovered the sport.
“My buddies were running up the hill, going deer hunting and I was stuck in town,” Fabry said. “I said, ‘Okay, I need to figure out how to start my hunting season as well.’ My roommate had a bow sitting in his closet and I had heard of someone shooting with her teeth on the radio, so I grabbed the bow, cut up a pair of blue jeans, and went in the backyard to practice.”
From that day on, Fabry was shooting four to five days a week, working to become proficient.
In order to shoot, he attaches a shortened dog leash to the string of the bow, pulls it back to full draw with his mouth, and relaxes his jaw when he wants to cast the arrow.
“It’s relaxing. Just because it’s an individual sport, you learn a lot about yourself and what you can do,” Fabry said. “Of course, you have the physical aspect of it, but if you want to be great, you have to learn the mental game of it.”
Fabry has skillfully developed his technique to the point where he won three bronze medals at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing, respectively, and one gold medal at the 2012 Games in London.
When he’s not competing, he coaches athletes of all shapes sizes whether they’re wounded warriors or members of Break the Barriers, a Fresno-based organization that fosters educational and athletic opportunities for kids of all abilities.
Fabry shows those he mentors and coaches that anything is possible, even with a perceived disability. He works on his own vehicles, and even helped put a new roof on his house.
“As far as anything I can’t do, I haven’t found it yet,” he said. “I even tried playing the old crippled card when it came to my first born. I told my wife, ‘I can’t change diapers.’ She kind of looked at me, and shook her head.”
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
The motorcycle accident, however, wasn’t Fabry’s only life scare.
In 2004, a photo of him was published in Sports Illustrated. It was taken at the Paralymic Games in Athens. Upon landing back in the U.S., Fabry called his wife and she told him the good news about the picture making it into the magazine, but she also had startling news.
“She said, ‘We’ve had three dermatologists call up and say you have cancer.’ I go and find the issue, flip it open and only saw my mole, which has been on my neck forever. Before I got home, my uncle set up an appointment with his dermatologist.”
A biopsy revealed stage I melanoma, so Fabry had the mass removed, and continues to go in for regular check ups.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 76,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2016 alone, with over 10,000 people dying because of it.
Discovering how precious life is on multiple occasions, Fabry has learned how to set his goals a little higher.
“When I do something, I want to do it to the best of my abilities because you’re never guaranteed another chance at it,” he said.
Fabry will head to Rio armed with a bow, plenty of sunscreen, and a level head. He’ll leave some marks on a target, but more importantly, he’ll continue to leave a mark on the world around him.