Still focused, Jacob Wukie of Oak Harbor watches the arrow as it leaves his bow headed for a target down range. Wukie has qualified for a third spot on the nation's Olympic archery team.
He waited and waited some more -- and after 25 agonizing minutes, Jacob Wukie learned he was an Olympian.
The excruciating wait had added anxiety for Oak Harbor's Wukie facing an unlikely comeback to grab the third of three spots on the Olympic archery team. It was enough to make any athlete's stomach ache.
He already was dealing with an inflamed stomach, aggravated by a virus that slowed his march to the London Games, costing him precious time training, sapping his energy level, and robbing him of 10 pounds.
"It wouldn't have surprised me if it had ended up keeping me from making the Olympic team," Wukie said.
Jacob Wukie was an alternate at the 2008 Beijing Games. He was the 2009 collegiate national champion.
That's not how the story goes. The 26-year-old Wukie, a Fremont Ross graduate, surprised competitors, family members, and himself by clawing from nine points down on the final day of the trials last month to secure a spot on a team that will be favored to win an Olympic medal next week.
Wukie, an alternate at the 2008 Beijing Games, will first shoot his bow July 27, hours before the opening ceremonies. Top-ranked United States, consisting of three-time reigning world cup champion Brady Ellison, 2012 world championship silver medalist Jake Kaminski, and 2009 collegiate national champion Wukie, won the world cup last month in the Recurve discipline and are viewed as a slight favorite. India could provide the stiffest challenge.
"There are a lot of heavy hitters out there, so we're definitely not taking anything for granted," said Wukie, who graduated in 2009 from James Madison University.
Wukie will also participate individually, with competition set to begin July 27 and concluding with the medal round Aug. 3.
For a six-month period beginning in late December, 2011, Wukie's chances of making the team waned. He doesn't know what led to his contracting of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes gastritis in humans and is a common cause of ulcers. At the urging of his father, an emergency room physician in Fremont, Wukie underwent testing. Results were positive.
"We never could come up with a specific conclusion to what was causing it," Dr. John Wukie said. "We figured out a way to allow him to continue training and minimize the symptoms."
Jacob, who lives at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., is not yet fully recovered, but at least he's capable of eating a full meal again. In search of nourishment at the second stage of the trials in April, he ordered tacos but gave up after a bite or two.
"He doesn't complain much," his mother, Patty, said. "It's not something he brought up frequently when we talked."
In making the Olympic team by a mere 1.75 points, everything -- every missed meal and missed training session, every lost pound, and every wayward arrow shot from his bow -- could have tipped the scales the other direction.
Covering his body in mosquitoes, a technique Wukie used early in his career to develop steel and focus, "would have felt like a walk in the park" compared to his recent bouts of discomfort.
"I knew it was most likely going to hurt me, it was going to take my performance down," Wukie said. "At this level, any decrease in performance is going to keep people from making teams."
Dr. Wukie phoned Jacob's elder brother, Jesse, on the evening of June 2, instructing him to rethink his plans to travel to Colorado Springs the next day for the conclusion of the trials. Jacob sat in fourth place, trailing the nearest competitor by nine points -- a deficit viewed as almost insurmountable at that point of the three-part, 10-month trials. To bring context to the hole Wukie found himself in, his final point total was 103. A nine-point differential, especially on the final day, is significant.
"We realized he'd have to shoot unbelievably," his mother said.
He did just that, posting blistering scores in the morning session before cooling off slightly in the afternoon. Jesse, still hopeful, was there to watch. Whereas Jacob remained at ease during a tense 25 minutes leading up to the awards ceremony, his mother grew nervous. She tallied numbers in her head, arriving at the conclusion that her son had pulled off an epic comeback. Jacob's coach crunched numbers differently, predicting a bitter outcome. Amid the confusion came the truth: Jacob edged Joe Fanchin, 103 to 101.25.
"There was all of this back and forth and misinformation, but it was so exciting when they finally announced he made it," a proud mother said.
Jacob leaves today for London not knowing if he'll make a run at the Olympics in 2016. If pushed to make a decision, archery will go by the wayside as he prepares to get married in December and explore professional opportunities in a biology-related field.
He gained back almost all of the 10 pounds he lost and believes he is shooting better than ever. If the virus came with a silver lining, it's that Wukie was forced to sharpen his mechanics to compensate for his weakened condition.
"I'm excited about going there and giving it all I have," he said. "I feel like I'll be ready to give everyone a run for their money."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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