Doubt and fear: These feelings, unfortunately, are all too familiar when many people consider trying something new.
Some let the fear win, backing out without knowing what could’ve been. But those with faith leap anyway. Faith means trust without proof, and requires courage. That makes faith the perfect name for Faith Oakley.
“I was terrified to try and shoot archery, a sport with mostly able-bodied people shooting,” Oakley said. “But if I didn’t, I would not be half the person I am today.”
She was born with Erb-Duchenne palsy, a condition that prevents use of her right arm. So, when a summer camp counselor asked Oakley to try archery in fourth grade, she almost didn’t. She hesitated a split-second, but then trusted her faith and agreed. The counselor helped Oakley hold the bow and, to her surprise, she shot her first bull’s-eye. That was all she needed to fall in love.
“I did not ever see myself shooting archery,” Oakley said. “If I didn’t try it, a big part of myself and my personality would be lacking. I would not be the same person I am today, and I would not be nearly as successful. I have so many good things to say about archery.”
Oakley joined her school’s archery team in fifth grade. She’s now a junior at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Kentucky, and one of the country’s best student archers. She competes against two-handed archers by using a mouth tab. Her mouth tab is a small piece of nylon that acts like a release. Oakley holds the bow with her left arm, and draws the string with the mouth tab clenched between her molars.
Drawing with a mouth tab sounds tough – and it is. “It takes the same amount of strength to pull back a bow with two hands as it does with your mouth,” Oakley said. Her hunting bow’s draw weight is around 40 pounds, but she wants to crank it up. To stay in shooting shape, Oakley works on her lower body and core strength to improve stability. She’s still trying to figure out how to improve her mouth strength, and she’s confident she’ll eventually find a way.
Oakley bowhunts and shoots competitively. In July 2017 she finished ninth at the National Archery in the Schools Program’s World Tournament in Orlando. And, like most competitive archers, Oakley trains daily.
“Archery is the only sport that I get an adrenaline kick from,” she said. “Because of the competitive level, and that focus and determination you have to have to be any good, archery is really intense. You have to put 100 percent of you into the sport.”
Oakley has been a cheerleader, and played soccer, track, volleyball and basketball, but archery stole her heart. “You don’t have to be the fastest runner, tallest or strongest,” she said. “You need a strong mind, and hard work and dedication. That’s also another special part of the sport: You don’t have to be blessed with good genes.”
Oakley proves practice makes perfect bull’s-eyes. She plans to shoot at college, and she’s aiming even higher: She has her sights on the 2024 Paralympic Games in France. Every arrow she shoots puts her one shot closer to her goal.
She’s also making an impact on others. Her story inspires fellow archers and people struggling with physical limitations. Oakley enjoys being a role model, and appreciates the positive response she gets from the archery community when competing. “In my mind, seeing someone do something out of the ordinary makes you think, ‘If that person can do that, I can do anything,’” Oakley said.
She uses her unique platform to encourage others to try archery, especially those younger than her. “I would beg them to at least try it,” Oakley said.
Oakley encourages everyone to visit a local archery shop and try the sport. She says archery teaches patience, commitment and strength. “I’m all about impact and inspiring people, especially kids who are my age or even younger. If they’re able to see someone do something, and that inspires them to go out of the their comfort zone, I’m A-OK with that.”
Years ago, Faith Oakley’s faith in her abilities introduced her to archery. Now she’s returning the favor. She has already coached a couple of kids to shoot with a mouth tab, and she’s working to become a certified archery instructor so she can help even more.
But Faith Oakley’s bigger story is her broad impact on those around her. Every person hearing her story gets an opportunity to spread her message of faith. “If there’s something you want to do, no matter what obstacles you have, take that dream and run with it,” she said.
That’s a lesson in the meaning of faith, from Faith herself.