Samantha Tucker never claimed to be the greatest athlete in the world. Sure, she could toss bales of hay with the best of them on the ranch where she grew up in Nebraska. But run and dribble a basketball at the same time? No way. She couldn’t jump high enough in volleyball, either, and she wasn’t very fast on a track.
Today she’s a top Paralympic hopeful in archery for Team USA.
The transition began six years ago, when a motorcycle accident left her lying — and dying — in a ditch on the side of a road.
“Something about dying on the side of the road helps you narrow down what’s really important,” Tucker said. “I didn’t choose to lose my arm, but it happened, and it’s how I respond. It was a valuable lesson I learned that day in the ditch.”
Tucker said the amputation of her lower left arm was one of the biggest blessings in her life. Now, approaching 47 years old, she’s one of the favorites to compete for a medal in archery at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
Tucker, who took up archery only two years ago, is one of the headliners at this week’s First Nomination Shoot at the AAE Arizona Cup in Phoenix, the initial U.S. Paralympic Team Trials qualifier for the sport.
America’s best Paralympic archers will shoot for points on Friday, and every archer will be seeded accordingly at the Second Nomination Shoot that will be May 14-15 in Chula Vista, California. The Final Nomination will be June 25-27 in conjunction with the SoCal Showdown, also in Chula Vista.
Tucker’s toughest competition will most likely be Martha Chavez, who was the first woman to medal (bronze) at the Parapan American Games in the compound division.
Every archer will advance to the Second Nomination Shoot, and the field will be trimmed down for the Final Nomination Shoot, which will be the deciding event for athletes vying for spots on Team USA for the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Tucker served in the U.S. Air Force and is just one of many service veterans competing in Paralympic archery. She had multiple surgeries over a 15-month period following her motorcycle wreck.
Tucker worked for a prosthetist (one who builds artificial limbs) in California when a patient rolled into the office in his wheelchair. The patient was Fabry, a 2012 Paralympic archery gold medalist, who was missing his right arm below the elbow and right leg below the knee. He asked Tucker if she’d ever shot archery. After Tucker said no, he went to his van and retrieved a 4-foot target and a compound bow with adaptive strap. Tucker took her first shot inside the doctor’s office and immediately fell in love with the sport.
She began competitive archery at the beginning of 2015 when she competed at the Vegas Shoot, which is the world’s largest indoor national tournament. She then began competing outdoors at the Arizona Cup and the SoCal Showdown.
She’s progressed so quickly that she could attain her dream of making the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team.
Tucker is right-handed but holds the bow with her right hand since she has no left hand. Until now, she has drawn back the bowstring with her mouth — just as Fabry showed her. She said the biggest hurdle at first was remaining steady with her right arm and staying focused. She will begin using a shoulder release this week; the First Nomination will be her first competition after training with her shoulder for only four weeks.
“The toughest part now is working up the muscles in shoulder because they haven’t been used in so long and my muscles have atrophied,” Tucker said.
She said this competition is to get repetitions with the new release and that she will use the next events to “dial in her equipment.”
Meanwhile, she’ll continue to use her story to speak to groups and inspire others, all while knowing she can continue this sport a long time.
“The wonderful thing about archery is it’s not just a young person sport,” Tucker said. “Losing my arm was a blessing way beyond the sport itself. Just believe and try your best at whatever you do.”
Scott McDonald is a Houston-based freelance writer who has 17 years experience in sports reporting and feature writing. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.