By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Faith Oakley has a saying she is fond of — “There is nothing you can’t do. It’s all about determination.”
And Oakley knows a thing or two about determination. She was born with a severe birth injury that left her right arm paralyzed, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the top archers in the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
Oakley, a junior at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky., recently competed in the NASP World Tournament where she placed ninth among all high school girls. She was the fourth-best sophomore in the event and was 21st overall among the 1,653 participants.
Those stats alone are impressive, but coupled with the obstacles Oakley has overcome makes her journey downright inspiring.
Oakley was born with Erb-Duchenne palsy — or Erb’s palsy — a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the main nerves in the upper arm. The force of Oakley’s birth caused her nerves to be torn from the spinal cord, leading to permanent paralysis, Oakley said.
Despite this challenge, Oakley is a bright, bubbly teenager who has become a formidable force in the archery field.
At the urging of her camp counselor, Oakley first picked up a bow at YMCA Camp Piomingo the summer before her fifth-grade year.
“My cabin went to shoot archery. My camp counselor asked, ‘Do you want to shoot?’ ” Oakley recalled in a recent interview at Bethlehem.
Oakley must have looked puzzled but she said the counselor told her, “I’ll hold the bow, you pull back and shoot.”
Oakley shot a bullseye on that first target.
She now shoots using a leather mouthpiece attached to her bow bowstring.
“I bite down with my back teeth and pull back. I aim and let my mouth go,” she explained.
Oakley, a parishioner of St. Aloysius Church in Shepherdsville, Ky., admits that she received stares and questions early on, but for the most part that has subsided.
“It used to be a taboo thing. Now most people know what those mouth tabs are or know more about them,” she said.
David Carrico, one of Oakley’s coaches at Bethlehem, said he’s impressed by her drive to continuously improve.
“She loves it. She never misses practice. She is very dedicated,” he said.
Carrico, a parishioner of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., said nowadays her disability is a non-issue.
“You would never know she has a disability. Nobody treats her like she does. She doesn’t want special treatment,” he said.
With her first NASP World Tournament under her belt, she has her sights set on finishing her high school career, shooting in college and possibly even making it to the Paralympic Games.
“I hope to qualify for the Paralympics. I’d like to shoot archery for the rest of my life. I know it’s possible. I know there are ways to train for the Paralympics,” she said.
Oakley said she considers herself to be a religious person and that her faith brings her a great deal of comfort and inspiration.
Last year she heard a homily given by Father Robert L. Stuempel, pastor of St. Bernard Church, where he spoke about gifts from God.
“He said God gives us gifts and talents that we sometimes take for granted. It made me think, ‘What do I do to make a positive impact?’ ” she said. “It opened my eyes a little.”
Besides archery, she aspires to be a mentor for young children. In the future, she hopes to coach children and she plans to study elementary education.
“I want to change the future for the better,” Oakley added. “I feel like education is the way to do that. I have had such good teachers and I want to be that teacher that they remember 5 to 10 years down the road and for them to say, ‘She helped me be the person I am today.’ ”