Jeff Fabry is a three-time Paralympic medalist. He will pursue his fourth medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in September. His story isn’t one of chance. From a motorcycle accident at 15 to a melanoma scare in 2004, each event shaped Fabry into the archer he is today, instilling perseverance and fanning the flames of his Olympic dreams.
Fabry lost an arm and leg in a motorcycle accident at age 15. The accident was a life-defining moment. He could overcome it or be consumed by it. He chose to overcome. Unable to join his friends hunting and fishing, Fabry sought a way to circumvent his injuries and rekindle those passions. He started by tying a strip of blue-jean material to use as a release, holding his compound bow in his left hand, and using his molars to bite down on the jean strap and draw the bowstring with his mouth and jaw. “I haven’t looked back since, and that was 1998,” he told USA Archery.
Fabry made his international archery debut five years later, and then earned a spot in 2004 on the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team. By that time he was shooting with a nylon mouth tab. Fabry won bronze in his division, but nothing prepared him for what happened after the Athens Games.
During those 2004 Games, a photographer approached Fabry and asked permission to submit photos to Sports Illustrated for consideration in their upcoming issue. A photo of Fabry made the magazine, but it came with another surprise.
When Fabry called his wife from the airport after landing stateside from Athens, she shared the news of his Sports Illustrated debut. Then she shared some scary news: Several dermatologists who saw the photo identified a spot on Fabry’s neck, and called their home to urge him to see a doctor. Immediately.
“It’s just a mole,” Fabry thought. Could he really have melanoma?
The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and that melanoma causes 75 percent of skin-cancer deaths. What was once a hypothetical estimation became a reality with the power to end Fabry’s life. But thanks to that photographer at the 2004 Games, Fabry soon sought treatment that kept him on the path to Paralympic archery fame.
“I’d put money on it today that if that picture wasn’t in Sports Illustrated, I’d be pushing up daisies right now. That’s how certain I am of it,” Fabry told USA Archery. “Basically, a photographer I don’t know, and a picture in a magazine I never thought I’d be in, saved my life.”
Fabry went on to compete in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games, earning individual bronze and gold medals, respectively. The latter medal was a defining moment in Fabry’s career, and marked Team USA’s first Paralympic title since 1984. It was also USA Archery’s first Olympic or Paralympic gold since 1996. Fabry is currently ranked No. 14 in the world, and will shoot for gold again in September at the Rio Paralympic Games.
Could a young Fabry predict his archery success after his accident? Probably not. Did he know his story would inspire other para-archers to overcome their disabilities and try archery? Not likely. But it has, and continues to do so.
Fabry teaches Paralympic archery at camps and clinics around the country. He introduced U.S. Paralympic team member Samantha Tucker to archery, and served as an archery coach for the Navy/Coast Guard team at the 2011 Warrior Games, a competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.
Can the world’s No. 14 para-archer keep the Olympic winning streak going? We think so!