How did I become a Paralympian?
I can say that before I was a star athlete in the Paralympic clique, I was beating up on able bodied athletes around the United States at archery tournaments. This was even at the national level. At that time I looked at myself as still "able" and did not want to be labeled as "disabled". Yes, this was my own negative thinking and showed me how shallow a person can be as I look back.
Fortunately for me, I ran into Aaron Cross at one of these national events. Aaron is a quad. At the time, he was a member of the U.S. disabled archery team. He had competed at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. For some reason, he reached out to me to see if I was interested in competing. Listening to his story, I quickly made up my mind that competing with the disabled archers was not for me. I was head strong to make my name while shooting with the able bodied archers. Period!
Several months went by and my wife and I were watching TV. Some footage from Sydney popped up and my wife took interest in it. Soon enough, there was Aaron shooting on the screen. I told my wife that I had met Aaron at a tournament and he had asked if I would be interested in trying out for the team. Of course I told her my answer was "no", due to the fact I did not want to compete against the disabled. I thought that would be the end of the conversation when she turned and looked at me and said, "You are disabled, right?!" I replied "Yes, I am" and that was all it took to change my life.
Shortly thereafter, I was in contact with Aaron and he introduced me to the head coach of the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team. This set me up to attend a training camp that was scheduled to begin on Sept. 11, 2001. I was to fly down and meet with the team but that came to a sudden stop with the attack on the Twin Towers. A friend showed up to give me ride to the airport, he asked why I was still packed to go. Puzzled, I asked him "What do you mean?" All he said was to turn on the news since I had not watched any TV this morning. As the screen showed a picture, we witnessed the second jet crash into the other building. What the? I couldn't believe what we just witnessed. Anger ran through my blood. After taking everything in and feeling numb, I decided to head to the airport and see for myself if the nation was grounded or if there was still a chance to get down to San Diego.
Of course all aircraft were ordered to sit down, so a quick call to the coach soon had me driving down to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., just outside of San Diego. The coach flew in a few days earlier and was on campus. With all the other athletes stuck who knows where in the nation, I was told if I can get down to camp I would have the coach’s sole attention for the length of the camp.
Yes, this was the beginning of my current 12 year career with USA Archery as a Paralympic athlete. To date, I have taken bronze medals in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and the highlight was winning a gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Today I sit here and think what do I need to do to prep and try to repeat in Rio.
Life is great.
The friends and memories I have thanks to being “disabled” are the best a person could ever ask for.
Jeff Fabry is a three-time Paralympic medalist in archery. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Fabry became the first gold medalist for USA Archery at the Olympic or Paralympic Games since 1996. Fabry was injured in a motorcycle accident at the age of 15, losing his right arm above the elbow and his right leg above the knee.