Archer Overcomes Adversity to Spread Hope… Passion for Sport
By: Perry Smith
Samantha “Mouth Tab Chick” Tucker can vividly recall how Paralympic gold medalist Jeff Fabry, helped her truly fall in love with archery. Fabry lost most of his right arm and leg in a motorcycle crash as a teenager. Yet after earning medals in 2004 and 2008, he earned a gold a medal at the Men’s Open Compound the 2012 Summer Paralympics. Tucker lost her left arm in October of 2010, after a motorcycle crash while she was working as a media relations officer at Fort Polk in Louisiana.
She can still remember the date vividly, and isn’t likely to forget it any time soon. The tank treads softened the corners of the road, and her motorcycle tire caught the edge — tossing her from the bike. The crash left Tucker in need of more than 14 surgeries in 15 months, and left her without her left arm below the elbow.
About two years after the crash, Tucker found herself on the archery range with her brother, whom Tucker describes as a big hunter. Growing up in the Nebraska panhandle, loving the outdoors, Tucker loved to shoot weapons. She was also had training, from her years of service—she was in the Air Force from 1991-95—but she was unsure of this new challenge. She felt timid, and even a little embarrassed.
Then, not long after, a little over a year ago, she was at an archery range with Fabry. She watched him shoot with a “mouth tab,” which is some nylon scrapping sewn around the string. He asked her if she wanted to give it a shot. “Sure, I’ll try it,” she thought. “He rolled in a huge 5-foot target and she quickly adjusted to the new form of release for her, both literally and figuratively. Tucker secures the string through her mouth tab using her back teeth. “It doesn’t actually touch my face,” she said. “As soon as I’m ready to release, I just open my mouth.”
Archery quickly became much more for Tucker as she used it as an outlet for so much that had been disrupted in her life. By her own admission, she was never an exceptional athlete. While growing up on the panhandle of Nebraska on a rural farmhouse 12 miles from town certainly required a toughness and fitness, as did her military service, she never excelled in traditional team sports. “I was never exceptionally tall or fast,” she said, but archery is an individual sport, she explained.
The self-reliance and solitude were qualities instantly appreciated by the woman raised in the solitude of the prairie, in a home where they canned their own goods, miles from the small town’s one-room school house. “It was awesome. I was hooked,” she said. “There’s just something quieting about archery. It’s not a team sport, it’s an individual sport.” By focusing on herself and her actions, it’s helped her rebuild muscles that atrophied after the crash. It’s helped her to rebuild her core, as well.
“It brings to light the emotions that I hadn’t addressed before,” Tucker said, describing the inner focus and introspection she goes through on the range. “It’s kind of like a therapy without a therapist. … you have to have this immovable center, and you have to really be centered. You kind of reach a Zen state.” And it’s helped her to achieve and become among the top in her field in a very short time. She’s already competed in national competitions in Las Vegas, Nev., and Albuquerque, N.M., and has her sights set on the Paralympics next year. She’s moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train for the team under head coach, Randi Smith.
She’s also enjoying a chance to spread her love of the sport to others who have lost limbs, and give back to others what she gets from archery. Some are veterans like herself, and the chance to share the meaning and challenge that archery gave to her. And it also reminds her that she’s 100 percent in control of how she reacts to her disability. Shooting next to other men and women who have lost their limbs, or the use of their legs, or struggling with severe emotional distress helped Tucker realize she’s in control of how she responds to her situation and any future adversity, she said. And she can share the confidence archery gives her with others, which is another of the gifts the sport offers her.
Initially, she wasn’t quite so confident, she said. “I was just standing on the line and feeling sorry for myself,” she said. But the challenge pushed her to “suck it up and focus my mind” she adds. Now for her, she uses archery and practice as a sort of “measuring stick,” for how she’s progressing emotionally, mentally and physically, she said. It’s not just helpful for her recovery, she said, it’s helping her move forward and grow as a person. “I’m gaining ability that I never had developed before — the personal introspection and being really honest with yourself,” she said. “You have to be 100 percent present for archery, and you can’t lie to yourself when you’re 100 percent present.” It’s not only about hitting the mark on the range, she said. “It kind of gives me clarity on what to take responsibility for, and what not to.” And she can see that it makes a difference in others when they have a similar experience. “It’s great to be able to inspire that in others because people are so capable,” she said. “All it takes is to be believed in and a community of people to support, like (Fabry) did for me.”
Samantha is not yet a funded athlete and is seeking funding for the high cost of training and pursuing her Paralympic dream. She has set up a website and would be grateful for any donations. http://www.rallyme.com/rallies/1447