Longtime Lawrence teacher competes at international archery competition

Lawrence resident Mark Hodges recently travelled to Robion, France to compete in the World Archery 3D Championships. Hodges was on a team that took the gold medal.

Mark Hodges didn’t make it to the winner’s podium at last month’s World Archery 3D Championships in Robion, France. But Hodges, who picked up the sport only a few years ago, says the experience gave him another item to cross off his bucket list.

After winning five national archery championships, the longtime Lawrence teacher says he’s proud to represent his country at an international level. Team USA took home the gold medal at this year’s competition, which wrapped up Sept. 24 with a record-breaking number of teams participating.

It was the first time the U.S. had competed in the event, along with several other non-European first-timers.

“The fact that we won a gold in the very first we ever attended — that’s unheard of,” Hodges says. “That would be like some basketball team from Chile coming up here and beating the Jayhawks. That just doesn’t happen.”

Hodges placed 22nd out of more than 40 shooters in his division. At 63, he was the oldest shooter competing in his division, and the second oldest on Team USA, which ranged in age from 16 to 66.

Mark Hodges, of Lawrence, gets ready to take aim at his target during the World Archery 3D Championships last month in Robion, France. Hodges, a longtime PE teacher at Sunflower Elementary, already has five national archery championships under his belt. He competed as a member of the gold-winning Team USA at the world competition, which ended Sept. 24.

Hodges knows a thing or two about competing on the global scale. Before returning to Lawrence and taking a teaching job at Sunflower Elementary School in 1993, Hodges had quite the career with the Olympics. He worked for the United State Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., and also served as Team USA’s head cycling coach in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and as the executive director of USA Badminton during the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

“This is sort of a pattern for me,” Hodges says. He enjoys finding new sports — usually individual, slightly off-the-beaten-path sports like archery or windsurfing or Ironman competitions — and mastering them. Before archery it was off-road motorcycle and motorcross racing.

His best friend had gotten hurt on his bike, Hodges remembered, and he didn’t want the same thing to happen to him. Hodges sold all his equipment and, looking for a new hobby, suddenly remembered how much he’d enjoyed archery as a kid at summer camp.

“So, I went on eBay, bought a bow and some arrows for under $100, and started shooting. I learned everything online or with books or with buying DVDs, and I really enjoyed it,” Hodges recalled. “I think that’s the secret to all things — if you want to advance fast, you’ve got to like doing it. And I found I liked doing it a great deal.”

While safety concerns have held Lawrence Public Schools back from introducing archery into PE curriculums, Hodges says he’s had about a half-dozen Sunflower students matriculate to kids’ programs at Lawrence’s Overton Archery Center.

After a few bad experiences with team sports in his high school years, Hodges decided he’d never again “allow a coach or an organization to determine my participation” in sports. From then on, he’s been drawn strictly to individual activities.

He says archery offers an athletic outlet for people like him, who might otherwise be discouraged from team sports.

Hodges enjoys archery’s “quiet” nature. He says picking up his bow and arrow never fails to put him in a peaceful frame of mind, not unlike meditation.

“There’s something I always thought was special — to let go of the arrow and watch it fly,” Hodges says. “And when you do it right, it’s pretty cool. And it’s a lot more difficult than you’d think it is.”

His goal entering any competition is to place within the top 16 shooters. By the end of the first day in Robion last month, he was in 17th place. The “very difficult” second day knocked him down to 22th.

But “be(ing) able to compete for myself and my country,” he says, was a “very unique and satisfying experience.”

He’d represented Team USA as an Olympic coach and director more than 20 years ago, but says most of his work happened before the start of the games, prepping athletes and covering logistical details.

“It’s a real odd feeling, putting in all that time and energy and then sitting back and watching somebody else compete,” Hodges says of his Olympics experiences.

In Seoul and in Barcelona, he’d participated in Olympics opening ceremonies, but the World Archery 3D Championships marked a complete first for Hodges, he says.

“The highlight for me was being chosen to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies,” he says. “That was the thing that was like, ‘Oh man, this is worth it.'”

Hodges says he’s set his sights on competing again at next year’s championships. If 2018 doesn’t work out, there’s always 2019. That year’s competition will be held in Alberta, Canada — one more experience on his bucket list, Hodges says.