Following a dirt bike accident that led to the amputation of most of his right arm and leg, Lemoore’s Jeff Fabry wanted nothing more than to get back to having a normal life.
As a three-time Paralympic medalist, normal for him now means continuing to be one of the best archers in the world as he goes for gold once again at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.
Fabry, who won the gold medal at the 2012 London Games, will compete in the W1 men’s compound bow archery competition looking to medal in his fourth straight games.
The opening ceremony for the 2016 games is tonight with the Games running through Sept. 18.
That comes after coming to grips quickly following an accident that wouldn’t stop him in life.
Fabry was 15-years-old when he collided nearly head-on with a friend as the pair rode dirt bikes and ATVs together after dark.
Seeing the condition his leg was in, Fabry knew he’d lose his leg. Doctors would amputate it later that night. In the three months that he spent in the hospital, he’d eventually need to have most of his left arm amputated as well.
“That was the most traumatic,” Fabry said. “It was pretty beat up but even when they’re putting you under, I hadn’t come to grips with it.”
Fabry’s friend would also lose his arm as well.
With Fabry lying in the hospital, a distant cousin that had also lost an arm in a motorcycle accident called to let him know the road would be tough, but he could have a happy life.
Fabry was motivated from there. The Lemoore High graduate didn’t fall behind in class work on his return to school. Being right-handed, he retaught himself to write with his left.
That, Fabry said, has been the most difficult part.
It wouldn’t be long until Fabry found a talent for archery.
Even before his accident, Fabry has been an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed bow hunting with friends and family. Having friends going on trips, he wanted to tag along and get back out there.
That got him to try shooting once again.
“Like anything,” Fabry said. “There was a learning curve. But I wanted to get back up in the hills so I knew I’d have to find a way to get there.”
Because of Fabry missing part of his left arm up to near the elbow, he pulls the arrow back with his teeth using a makeshift mouth tab he made himself to prevent cuts to his mouth.
When he first tried it, he cut up a pair of old jeans and taped it to the string to be able to bite down on it. While that worked without cutting himself, Fabry continued to test out different fabrics such as leather before finding his current preference — a nylon dog leash.
“I tried any and everything,” Fabry said. “It’s just worked the best for me.”
That led to Fabry starting to compete. In his first tournament, competing against able-bodied archers, Fabry won.
After meeting another Paralympian that suggested Fabry try out for the team, it took him awhile to do it.
“I kind of just blew him off,” Fabry said.
He got it from his wife, who heard of him being hesitant because he didn’t want to compete against other disabled people.
“She told me that was bull,” Fabry said. “She gave me the push I needed.”
Fabry was all set to meet with the Paralympic archery team’s coach when he wasn’t able to get onboard his flight. All flights had been grounded with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks having happened that morning.
That has been one of the main reasons Fabry has taken pride in representing his country.
“For me,” Fabry said. “It’s all about patriotism.”
Since then, Fabry has thrived.
In his first trip to the World Championships in 2003 in Madrid, Spain, Fabry won his first of three straight golds. He also won in the 2005 World Championships in Massa Carrara, Italy, as well as in 2007 in Cheongju, South Korea.
Along with medals at three Paralympics — he also won bronze at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Games — Fabry has also been featured in Sports Illustrated. After winning gold at the 2012 London Games, Fabry was nominated for an ESPY as “Best Male Athlete With a Disability.”
Having seen the world as one of the world’s best archers, Fabry has made a living shooting bows and arrows.
For the past two years, he’s been the archery director at Break the Barriers, a nonprofit organization in Fresno while finding time to travel to tournaments. His favorite part there is seeing the joy of visually impaired children when they hit the target.
“I like the different types of kids and veterans I get to work with,” he said. “It’s really gratifying.”
Fabry still gets a thrill every time he competes and wants to continue to do it as long as possible.
“As soon as I hear that whistle blow, it’s a thrill,” Fabry said. “There’s nothing like competing with that electricity. That’s what does it for me.”
What does it for him away from competing is helping other overcome obstacles.
“People will say you can’t do something,” Fabry said. “I’ll tell them they can.”