By Tara M. Krieger
On May 18, James Madison University's Adam Wheatcroft won the U.S. Intercollegiate Archery Championships in the men's compound division.
On May 25, he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. On Oct. 28, he was gone.
Wheatcroft, a former Junior World Champion and world record holder, was to archery what B.J. Symons is to college football and Marcus White is to NCAA basketball. In addition to being a world-class archer, Adam was a humble leader. At the Intercollegiate championships, he was elected male student representative by archers nationwide. He was also one of JMU's 2003 team captains and an Academic All-American.
His mother, Lynette, called her only child "a gracious winner and a gracious loser" in his obituary in the Oakland (Mich.) Press.
"He just never bragged about himself," she said. She also mentioned that he never complained about his fatal predicament.
I can't recall meeting Adam or having a conversation with him, but I do know some of his teammates (JMU and Columbia have developed somewhat of a friendly rivalry over the years), and friends on the archery team and I were visibly affected by the suddenness of Adam's demise. And it wasn't in that distant, detached way one would mourn the passing of a celebrity.
Archery's funny like that. It's never quite reached the popularity in this country of, say, football or baseball (or lacrosse or volleyball...), but the community's smallness gives it qualities other sports don't have.
Most college basketball players know they'll never get to face Shaquille O'Neal or Allen Iverson, let alone talk to people who play with them. But even some of the newest or most mediocre of archers (myself included) will likely get the chance to shoot with or against an Olympic hopeful. Every archer knows the names of the nation's best shooters (even if the rest of the country is oblivious, beyond Geena Davis) and if they haven't yet met them face to face, they have friends who have.
"Because the archery community is such a tight-knit group, Adam's untimely death was hard to come to terms with," said first-year Stephanie Miller, herself one of the top archers in the country. "He was one of us--a collegiate archer, a young archer, and an extraordinary one, on top of all that--and now he's gone."
According to his obituary, archery came naturally to Adam. A sports management major at JMU who was fond of all kinds of athletics--he was also an exceptional bowler and huntsman--Adam first picked up a bow at age seven. By 1998, he'd won the Junior World Championship in Sweden, a feat he repeated in 2000. His accolades extended through college as he placed first in the World University games last year and was named to the U.S. archery team in both 2001 and 2002.
Adam meant so much to the sport that his parents requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the JMU Archery Foundation.
The archery community has responded tremendously. Many archers and archery programs throughout the country have helped Adam's family cover the exorbitant cost of their medical bills.
Texas A & M, probably the best archery school in the country, donated half the proceeds from its tournament last weekend to the same cause.
"Everyone wants to do what they can," junior Nasreen Bakht said. "Our team and the archers from New York in general will certainly pull together and do anything we can for JMU and Adam's family."
At Columbia, the archery team organized an emergency meeting and mapped out the blueprints for a pledge drive/charity tournament that would have been held last week, had not the NCAA's sticky rules intervened. The team still plans to hold it at some point, despite the date being postponed indefinitely. The team sees it as important, as losing Adam was almost akin to losing a teammate. If successful, maybe it will become an annual event.
Two weeks ago, at Columbia's centennial celebration of the birth of Lou Gehrig (CC '25, had he not left to play baseball), I couldn't help but draw the parallels between Gehrig and Adam. Both were modest leaders who bore the disease that prematurely took them at the height of their distinguished athletic careers with remarkable courage and stoicism.
Since Adam was just 21 at the time of his passing, the archery community likely won't hold any 100th birthday celebration for him when the time comes. Still, something tells me the memory of Adam Wheatcroft will linger as long as any memorial tournament or award to which his name will inevitably be affixed in the minds of all those who knew him, whether they'd met him or not.