USA Archery Logo

March 18, 2024

Jonathan Clemins, the former law enforcement officer overseeing the USA's push for Paralympic glory

Jonathan Clemins is the USA Archery Paralympic Head Coach and Head Coach at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio.

As an archery coach, what you say and how you say it could be the difference between winning and losing, gold or silver, success or failure.

Prior to becoming a full-time archery coach, Clemins was in law enforcement for 10 years, which involved being on the SWAT team, as well as a fire and explosion investigator with the Huntington Police Department in West Virginia.

The decisions you make on a daily basis within law enforcement often come with real life consequences. Making the switch from being a law enforcement officer to head coach of USA Archery’s Paralympic team could be viewed as quite the career change but Clemins sees similarities in the skills required.

“When you’re in law enforcement, you deal with people when they are at their low point,” Clemins said. “It’s not very often that you come into contact with people and they’re having the best day ever.

“Usually, they’re in the middle of their worst day ever, and you have to find a way to pull somebody out of that. Or maybe they’re breaking the law, and you have to force them stop.

“I think a lot of those experiences really helped me as a coach and who I am now.”

Jonathan Clemins was born in Beckley, West Virginia and grew up in nearby Oak Hill. His earliest memories of archery were in his backyard with his father and grandfather.

He said, “I started when I was 11 or 12 years old, to learn how to bowhunt. It was all about bowhunting. Target archery wasn’t a thing, wasn’t a thought for my family, or in my area. I started archery to bowhunt.”

Clemins continued shooting for fun until the freshman year of high school, whereupon he shot competitively for the first time. He had no idea how well he had done at this event, a 3D tournament, until having it announced to a group of friends during a summer camp.

“I was a bit of a nerd,” Clemins said with a smile. “I was in a forensic science summer camp and we were doing a team-building thing, going white water rafting, and the archery coach I had at the time was working as a guide and he makes this huge announcement on the bus.

“He said, ‘I want to have everybody’s attention … we have one of the best archers in the state of West Virginia on the bus’, and he tells everybody that I finished third in the state at this shoot, and I had no idea that I was even competing for anything.”

After some success at his first tournament, Clemins stepped it up a notch. He signed up for his first indoor event, whereupon he swiftly realized he was perhaps not as suitably equipped as he ought to have been.

“I walked in with this little hunting bow,” he recalls. “And it’s the first time in my life that I saw bars that were longer than 12 inches, magnification … it opened up my eyes to a whole other world of archery.

“And that moment was when I started to feel the nerves. In fact, I actually dry-fired my bow at that event and earned the nickname Dry-Fire through the rest of my high school career.

“We still joke about that to this day. Some of my friends are like, ‘you’re a national Paralympic coach and you dry-fired your bow in high school’ – who could’ve predicted that?”

A graduate of Mountain State University in Beckley, WV, with a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, Clemins also holds a master's degree in criminal justice from Marshall University. On top of that, he is a published author, having written about the historic West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville.

Growing up, he had his heart set on being in law enforcement but he also admits to archery being ‘his thing’ even before he knew it was a sport.

Clemins competed as an archer, but he knew that coaching was where he belonged. He was named USA Archery Paralympic Head Coach in January 2023 and, after a spell at the University of Pikeville as assistant coach, has recently taken up the head coach position at Rio Grande.

He was on the line when Lia Coryell claimed the 2022 World Championship in the W1 women division in Dubai, when there was confusion as to whether she had actually won.

Clemins said, “Some of my favorite archery memories were being on the line with Lia in Dubai when she won the World Championship, and she was ready to keep shooting more arrows.

“In fact, she was so ready, that there for a minute I was like ‘wait, did I mess up?’ because by my calculations the match was over, and she was saying, ‘no, we have one more end’. She was so convincing.”

Clemins was leading the team when the USA dominated the 2023 Para Pan American Games in Chile last November, and he will take a talented team to Paris later this year for the 2024 Paralympic Games.

His career as a police officer was to keep the community safe, to protect and serve, while standing in harm’s way each and every day. His role now requires some of the same skills he needed while in an officer’s uniform, only now he wears the uniform of the United States.

“Being a coach is a really special thing,” Clemins said. “Because, essentially, you get a front row seat to the dreams and the hopes and desires of all these other people. And you get the unique opportunity to be that tool and be that avenue to get them to where they want to go, and I don’t take that for granted.”

< Back to All News

A thank you to our proud sponsors

View All Sponsors

Connect With Us