A Former Star Triathlete And Skier, Kevin Mather Is Ready To Take Aim At Para Archery World Championships

By Doug Williams | Sept. 11, 2017, 3:31 p.m. (ET)
Kevin Mather will compete in his first international archery competition this week at the World Archery Para Championships in Beijing.

 

After the first day of July’s U.S. team trials for the World Archery Para Championships, Kevin Mather was shocked to find himself in contention.

“When the results came out they showed me in third,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow, if I don’t mess this up tomorrow, I should be OK.’”

The 35-year-old Mather, a former Ironman triathlete and member of the U.S. Paralympic alpine skiing team, laughed as he recalled his surprise. He took up archery two years ago, and the trials competition was his biggest event in the sport. He went in without expectations.

Yet Mather shot better than he ever had in finishing third in the recurve open event behind winner Michael Lukow and Timothy Palumbo. The result earned him a spot on the U.S. team competing at the world championships in Beijing that begin Sept. 12.

“I was blown away,” he said.

Now the Lakewood, Colorado resident heads toward Beijing with the same sort of attitude he carried into the trials: work hard, bear down but don’t worry about results.

“I’ve never been to anything at this level,” he said. “I did the team shoot (trials), I went to nationals, I went to SoCal, that’s all I’ve done at this point. So I’m like, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to be like.’”

Judging from the past results he’s studied, he believes he has the potential to shoot his way into the top 10. Or, perhaps he could again pop up with another super day.

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“Any given day, I figure I can get myself up there,” he said. “When I’m in training I shoot match play with my partner, and there’s definitely times I just go lights out. If I can shoot like that, that’ll get it done. I don’t have the consistency where that happens every time, but it’s a possibility.”

One thing Mather is certain of, however, is that he has the makeup to perform under pressure.

“I don’t get shaken by much and I don’t let outside factors influence my next shot, generally,” he said. If he can get off to a good start, he said, “I might shake them up. Who knows?”

The Path To Archery

Mather’s journey to world championship-level archer wasn’t as straight as an arrow.

He was a high school football player near Los Angeles and also played youth soccer and baseball. After high school he was a runner and cyclist and did snowboarding and wakeboarding. He also began dreaming of doing an Ironman triathlon.

Then, in July of 2009, Mather was on a training ride in the foothills of Los Angeles with a group of friends when he was hit by a truck. The accident left him without the use of his legs.

But Mather was determined to continue to lead an active life. He won the wheelchair division of the Los Angeles Marathon in 2012 and qualified for the 2012 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, where he finished second in the physically challenged division, covering 140.2 miles in 12 hours, 36 minutes and 16 seconds.

While triathlon doesn’t seem like much of a preparation for archery, Mather says it was invaluable. To become an Ironman, he had to put in hours of training every day, fight through adversity and perform on race day. He says it formed his view of how he competes and sees the world.

“Most people look at that (Ironman) and are like, ‘Wait, you’re going to swim 2.4 miles and then hop on a bike and crank out 112 miles with just your arms and then you’re going to hop in a wheelchair and push yourself 26.2 miles?’” he said. “I’m like, ‘OK, what’s so hard about that?’ So I always have that big goal, big mindset attitude. That’s helped a lot with archery.”

So has his experience as an alpine skier. He started on a mono ski in the winter of 2011-2012 and was good enough to compete for the U.S. national team, specializing in the giant slalom. In January of this year he competed at the world championships in the giant slalom sitting competition.

As a skier, Mather had to focus on building strength and balance. Because he doesn’t have use of his lower abdominal muscles, that was what he called “a humbling” challenge. But all that work he put in means he can now sit in his wheelchair while shooting and hold his bow up and out with his arms for long periods of time. Skiing gave him a physical base for archery.

Plus, his day-to-day life of picking up his wheelchair and lifting it up into his truck or getting it out has built up his arms and shoulders.

“I’m using a lot of muscles that are related to archery,” he said.

Mather had shot a bow for about a year when he was growing up, but then put it aside. He picked one up again two years ago when a fellow volunteer at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado — where both were counseling new patients with similar injuries about how life “can still be pretty awesome doing rad stuff,” said Mather — told him he was going shooting.

“I was like, ‘Can I come?’” recalled Mather. “He was like, ‘Sweet, sure.’ I just went … I was shooting pretty well for someone who had just picked up a bow.”

Now, no matter what happens in Beijing, archery will be his focus. He’s stepping away from skiing. He believes he has a higher ceiling with a bow instead of a mono ski. He’d love to keep improving, be a permanent fixture on the U.S. national team and perhaps even make the able-bodied U.S. team. But, he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself or focus on expectations.

“That’s a huge goal and that’s down the road,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of arrows to fling between now and then.”

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.