One arm, one leg, one great archer
A bow doesn’t know how it’s being held. A bowstring doesn’t know how it’s being drawn. And an arrow doesn’t know what’s gripping it, how it’s being cast or where it’s landing.
Anyone watching Jeff Fabry at the Big Sky Open archery tournament, though, saw a man with one arm and one leg, using a wheelchair, handled his compound bow with the best of the competitors there.
He holds his bow in his left hand, then with his right-side molars, bites down on a small piece of nylon dog leash sewn onto the bowstring and draws the string and arrow back.
He then aims, he said, “Just like anybody else, not different than an able body,” and when he’s ready, “I relax the jaw, and it slips out and casts the arrow.”
Fabry, of Lemoore, Calif., became the first wheelchair-user to compete at the Big Sky, according to event organizer Tootie Brabec.
Fabry, who lost his right leg and his right arm below the elbow in a motorcycle accident at age 15, competed in men’s freestyle limited at the Big Sky Open last weekend at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. Tootie’s son, Randy Brabec, has competed against Fabry in pro tournaments for many years. He calls Fabry a good friend and said he has tried for six or seven years to get him to come to the Big Sky Open.
Fabry said he finally came to Grand Junction because “the timing was right. I had nothing else going on.”
He has met great success as a professional archer and is a member of the U.S. Paralympic archery team, winning bronze medals in the Paralympics in 2004 in Athens, Greece, and 2008 in Beijing. He’ll compete again for the U.S. team this summer in London.
While it’s obvious Fabry faces challenges that able-bodied competitors do not, Randy Brabec said some competitors had the gall to see it differently.
“When I first started shooting with him, in our division there were people who thought he had the edge,” Brabec said. “He has less of an advantage to shoot than we do. He has an amazing talent.”
Brabec said some competitors stopped going to tournaments if Fabry was going to be there, because they believed they couldn’t beat him.
“It’s just dumb, those guys doing that,” Brabec said. “Anyone can be beat.”
Brabec saw Fabry’s ability as a personal challenge to beat the best, and he said the two battled for first and second for years in freestyle-limited competition around the nation. That also led to their friendship and the invite to come compete at the Big Sky.
Attendance shoots up
Tootie Brabec said more than 150 people competed at this year’s Big Sky, up about 40 people over the previous year. Twenty-six women, 12 boys and five girls competed.
When Bostonian Braden Gellenthien, one of the nation’s top archers, heard no one had ever shot a perfect round, 600 points, at the Big Sky Open, he entertained the thought of becoming the first during his first time competing at the tourney.
“Maybe with perfect conditions, no wind, a good day, it could happen,” he said. “Then you get out there ...”
His understanding of the lack of perfection quickly came into focus.
“It’s going to be quite a feat,” he said. “If anyone did it, it would deserve high praise.”
Might he still be the one to do it? Gellenthien said he could see himself returning to the Big Sky if his schedule allows.
Fun for Dad, too, until…
Some athletes are described as born to excel in their sport. Don’t count Gellenthien among them. He said he got into archery at age 10 after being introduced to it during a Cub Scout camp.
“It wasn’t like I had a natural affinity,” he said. “It was fun.”
His father, Donald, helped him by getting involved, too, and they would go to local clubs two to three times a week and compete in family fun leagues.
That lasted about two years.
“I finally beat him,” Braden explained. “Then we started casually golfing.”