Compound archer Samantha Tucker is an Air Force veteran who grew up on a Nebraskan ranch, and now has her sights set on Rio 2016. In her formative years, Samantha performed daily chores, attended a one-room schoolhouse, and never dreamed she would one day be described as an “elite athlete” – especially after losing her left hand in a motorcycle accident.
Yet six years after that tragedy, Tucker is an elite compound archer and Paralympic hopeful who’s motivating and encouraging others internationally. Tucker first tried archery in April 2014, four years after losing the hand. That introduction catapulted her into competitive archery, shaped her story of tenacity and determination, and put her on the fast track to success.
Tucker’s defining archery moment happened in a doctor’s office.
“I was out in California, working for a prosthetist (a professional who makes artificial limbs for amputees and people with mobility challenges),” Tucker said. “A patient came rolling in one day in a wheelchair. He was missing his right arm below the elbow, and his right leg below the knee.”
The patient asked Tucker if she had ever shot archery. Moments later, he returned from his van with a 4-foot target and a compound bow with an adaptive strap. Tucker nocked and released her first arrow right there in the patient’s examining room. Her teacher? Olympic gold medalist Jeff Fabry.
Tucker described that first shot in three words: “I was jazzed!” Much like any first-timer, she loved feeling the bow’s power as she released the arrow. Seven months later, she moved to Colorado to train full-time in hopes of earning a spot on the U.S. Paralympic archery team bound for Rio later this year.
Tucker’s first national tournament was the 2015 Vegas Shoot, the world’s largest indoor national tournament. “I didn’t have time to start small,” she said. “I wanted the goal of making the team.”
She jumped into the competitive arena, competing in Vegas, then the Arizona Cup, and then the SoCal Showdown, where she competed alongside world champions, Olympians and Paralympians to make the world team and a slot at Toronto’s Parapan Am Games. After a bad tournament, she spent two weeks purging negative thoughts while preparing for the World Archery Para Championships in Germany. And it worked! She outshot her personal best by 20 points.
Coach MJ Rogers said the Parapan Am Games were a “turning point” for Tucker. “She took that experience to the World Archery Para Championship in Germany,” explained Rogers. “It was obvious she was a different archer. She kept her head while competing, even though her family was present. She’s finding the switch for turning on when necessary, and off when it’s time to clear her head and prepare for the next round.”
Now, she’s sighting in on the U.S. Paralympic Team trials. Between now and April’s Arizona Cup, Tucker is transitioning from a mouth tab to a shoulder release, like the one used by world-record holder Matt Stutzman.
“She is making rapid improvement,” said Rogers. “She is very driven to become a competitive archer and to show that there are no limitations.”
Her new goal is clear: To shoot the best arrow every time. “I don’t shoot scores. I shoot arrows,” she said. “My job is to make sure my process and mental game are strong.”
“Every action is rooted in the thought that produced it,” continued Tucker. “Whether it’s archery or anything else, becoming aware and raising awareness of thoughts we think about, even in the background, is so important. If you’re not happy where your arrow is hitting or where you are in your life, it all goes back to your thoughts. I was born able-bodied and lost the use of my left arm, and that event could’ve been a bad thing, but I chose to make it a good thing.”
Tucker then related the power of thoughts to other human trials. “Divorce, career loss, personal tragedy, down to the smallest thing, your car breaking down,” Tucker continued. “It doesn’t matter what the event is. You get to assign the meaning, so choose well. You’ve got that power.”
And “choose well” is what Tucker did after her accident. She started “Limbs of Triumph” to raise money for a Haitian teen needing limbs. She has also assisted in several wounded-veteran events, and currently hosts free novice and veteran-adaptive archery clinics.
“What this archery journey has provided me is a world stage for encouraging and motivating people,” Tucker said. “I love to see people challenge their own perceived limitations. A lot of times, people believe they have limitations, but no facts to back it up. It’s just a belief they have. I’m looking forward to the whole experience and the opportunity this is going to give me to encourage, motivate and inspire other people.”
Rogers says Tucker is a contending archer who is recognized among both able-bodied and para athletes. Her tenacity is an inspiration to all, and we look forward to watching her story unfold on the Road to Rio!
Samantha’s currently running a fundraiser to support her training expenses. If you’re interested in donating, please click here.