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Trenton Cowles poses with his gold medal at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 on Oct. 17, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Trenton Cowles earned the gold medal in the men's recurve individual event Wednesday, the best U.S. finish in archery at a Youth Olympic or Olympic Games since 1996. His focus and nerves of steel led to a remarkable podium finish, but it's often his start in the sport that raises the most eyebrows.
"I first discovered archery by playing it on Wii Sports Resort, and I was really good at it as a video game," Cowles said. "I was like, 'I should try this in real life.'"
There were, admittedly, some false starts in the transition - namely, he didn't have a bow. Determined, he went out to his dad's woodworking setup in the garage while his dad was working and started trying to build a bow out of plywood. The bow didn't really work and broke apart quickly, and for a little while, he went back to just practicing the sport virtually.
But Cowles was determined. During a family camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, Trenton and his brother received pocket knives as souvenirs. As their parents, Julie and Matt, cooked, the two boys whittled sticks outside of the RV. When Matt stepped out to call them in to eat, he was surprised to see what Trenton had made.
"Me and Mama were cooking, and we look out and he's over there with a bow now," Matt laughed. "He had whittled himself a bow and taken a bungee cord off the motor home, and he was able to hit trees with it."
That moment, Matt said, was a turning point. On the drive back to their hometown in Southern California, Julie researched local archery clubs and signed him up for a program. With five kids in the house who all played sports, they relied on Trenton's grandparents, Tony and Julia, to get him to archery, while his parents coached and drove the others.
Trenton admits the transition from video games to real life was not as smooth as he expected. Initially, he struggled in the sport.
"I tried it in real life and I was not very good at it," he admitted. "But I am very competitive, so I was driven to be the best I could."
He kept practicing, and eventually was referred by the local coach to the Easton Foundations Archery Center in Van Nuys, California. When his grandfather agreed to help drive him there, his parents enrolled him, and they figured that was that - until it wasn't. Trenton came home one day and asked his dad if he could miss an upcoming school day for an archery competition. His dad was skeptical.
"I said, 'A day off of school? For archery? You've never missed a day of school in your life,'" Matt said. "'That's not gonna happen.'"
But as his dad pressed for details, Trenton mentioned the title of the tournament: state championships.
"And I was like, woah, okay," Matt laughed. He and Julie decided to pack up the car and the kids and headed to the tournament with him.
Cowles' success has only continued from there. In 2018 alone, he has earned bronze in the junior team event at the World Archery Indoor Championships and taken home three medals from the 2018 Pan American Championships (individual silver, mixed team and team gold). On Sunday, he earned the mixed international team bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games.
Now, he has another accomplishment to add to the list: Youth Olympic individual gold. Seeded 15th, Cowles dominated the competition, never earning less than 28 points in a match and never losing a set on his way to gold. In the final match of the tournament, he defeated India's Akash Akash, 6-0, to clinch the top spot.
"I'm really happy - I mean, I have a gold medal!" he gushed after the victory. "It feels like a great honor to represent such a great country at the Youth Olympic Games, and I thank all my family and friends that have supported me on my journey."
From a virtual hobby to a real-life medal - perhaps an unusual journey, but definitely a fun one.
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