Abingdon archery whiz labeled a real straight arrow

July 12, 1992|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff Writer

At first, Mike Leiter doesn't seem like a national champion athlete.

The soft-spoken 33-year-old spends most days at his Abingdon home as "house dad" to 6-year-old twins Jason and Kenny. Since the boys were 6 months old, Leiter has stayed home while his wife, Kathy, worked as an accountant at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Three to five times a week, however, Leiter escapes to spend a few hours with a bow and arrow.

A professional archer for 14 years, the Bel Air High graduate is a four-time national field archery champion.

Last summer, Leiter became only the third person to win a fourth National Field Archery Association (NFAA) outdoor title. His score of 2,781 points out of 2,800 on the 28-target field course in Darrington, Wash., fell one point short of the world record.

Despite those accomplishments, few have ever heard of Leiter. Those who have probably did not hear it from him.

"Mike's the kind of guy who could win a tournament and 10 minutes later you'd have to pull it out of him that he won," said Terry Ragsdale, of Tucson, Ariz., also a four-time champ.

"[Some other competitors] are so cocky they want to hire the Goodyear blimp to fly around their town when they win. But I don't think I've ever heard anybody say anything bad about Mike," said Ragsdale, who holds the world record of 2,782 on the 28-target field course set up similar to a golf course. "Mike is such a gentleman."

Ragsdale, 35, skipped last year's NFAA championship, but he will be in Wausau, Wis., on July 27 for this year's event. "I've got TC make sure that Leiter guy doesn't win his fifth before I do," said Ragsdale, with a laugh.

Leiter is so unassuming that he even shoots a Terry Ragsdale signature compound bow. The two men have been shooting together since they were in their early teens. Both are sponsored by Precision Shooting Equipment, a Tucson-based archery equipment manufacturer. Ragsdale works for the company.

They remain friendly rivals, though each wants to win that fifth title first.

When it comes to motivation, Leiter said Ragsdale may have the advantage this year. Ragsdale skipped last year's nationals while Leiter was determined to win after losing by two shots in 1989 and one shot in 1990.

In early May, Leiter won a California tournament that paid $4,000 for winning the individual and team titles. That was, by far, the biggest payday of his pro career.

Leiter said he still hasn't come down from that. "My motivation is different this year," said Leiter. "Last year I was really motivated because I finished second two years in a row. I was happy with second, but when you come that close and miss, it adds a little fire to you.

"This year, I won in California and I won the most money ever for me at a tournament. I really want to win nationals, but it's hard getting motivated. Every time there's a big tournament, it takes something out of you."

Only recently has Leiter gotten used to the ups and downs of the tournament schedule, even though he has cut back to about five tournaments a year.

"I used to feel like you're only as good as your last tournament. I always felt like I had to prove myself to manufacturers, to my fellow competitors. Since I won my fourth one, I feel my place in archery history is assured."

Leiter learned the sport from his parents, Hal and Mary Leiter. They took up archery in the early 60s, and it became a family affair with all four children shooting. Their oldest son got his first bow at 5 and began competing at 8.

Ever since he started shooting, Leiter has been his own toughest critic.

"The hardest part for me is that I keep fighting myself to get better. I guess I'm really hard on myself as far as shooting perfect shots and doing as well as I can. I'm always looking for a couple extra points. I try to maintain a very high level of perfection."

A perfect score for a single round of 28 targets is 560, which no one has ever shot. Leiter once shot 559. He missed a 65-yard shot about seven targets from the finish.

"If you make the comparison with golf, par for a professional is 550," said Leiter. "When people get better, they start aiming for 540. Then, they want to shoot 550. Top professionals finish consistently in the 555 to 557 range.

Leiter, who shoots three to five times a week at the Vingthuf Bowmen club in White Marsh, has won a lot of tournaments. But that hasn't meant much in the way of monetary reward.

For winning his 1991 national title, Leiter took home $1,600. Although his sponsor pays most of his expenses, Leiter cannot earn enough to make a living from archery. Only about 10 to 15 tournaments a year offer prize money in the $1,000 range.

"The money from my sponsor is my archery money," said Leiter. "With kids and just my wife working, I would feel bad if I took the family money and used it for archery.

"I treat it as my business. I have to decide whether it's cost effective for me to go to a shoot. Lately, it hasn't been very cost effective."

Although he would like to make a living from archery, Leiter plans to go back to school to learn computer repair soon after his twins enter first grade in the fall. But he will continue to shoot tournaments.

"I think it's gonna be a sport for a lifetime," Leiter said. "I'd like to win maybe six or seven [national championships]."

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