GARDINER — Brad Sandelin competed in his first world archery championship in 2016, but for the Gardiner Area High School student, there was no tale of beginner’s luck, no dramatic story about a newcomer making a grand arrival on a new stage.

Quite the opposite, actually.

“I thought I could do something there,” he said. “But I wasn’t even close.”

It could have been a discouraging setback, but Sandelin, a lineman on the Gardiner football team, didn’t let it. He kept working, kept practicing and kept training, and two years later he finished first at the International Bowhunting Organization World Championship, beating out 21 other competitors to take the top spot in the YMR (youth male release) 15- to 17-year-old group in Snowshoe, West Virginia.

“It felt pretty nice,” said Sandelin, who won the championship in the 3D archery format, which has archers walk through a course and fire at targets without knowing the distances to them. “Everybody at home knew that I had a chance at making a run for it, but they weren’t really sure how well I’d do at the new class and at a big level like that.”

This wasn’t some long-awaited career breakthrough. Sandelin only picked up archery at 13 after his interest was piqued by watching YouTube videos. He started in the winter of 2015-16, and by that summer was headed to Pennsylvania for the IBO world championships in the 13- to 14-year-old group.

It didn’t take long for him to realize what he had gotten himself into.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I went down there,” he said. “But when I got there and saw all these big setups, I was like ‘Holy crap.’ ”

Sandelin actually had one of the best scores he had posted, but it was only good for 371 points and 28th out of 30 competitors. He knew that if he was going to return, the hobby was going to have to become a passion.

“Most of my problem was judging yardage, and knowing where all the scoring was,” said Sandelin, an avid bowhunter, who said he upped his practice to close to 10 hours a week. “I just basically practiced on that, practiced my shot execution. … I knew what I had to do. I worked all winter on my technique, worked on my aiming.”

He also gave himself a busier schedule, competing in two legs of the National Triple Crown leading up to the World Championship and finishing fifth and third, respectively. Now more prepared for the competition, Sandelin returned to the World Championship and totaled 524 points, finishing second overall out of 22 competitors.

“People were like ‘Hmm, I’ve never heard of this kid,’ ” Sandelin said.

He had only one place to climb at the worlds this year, but doing so was far from a given. He would have to compete in a new class, the 15- to 17-year-old division, which meant going against more skilled and more experienced archers.

“The competition gets a lot higher too since they’ve been in the game a lot longer,” he said. “Most of these kids have been shooting since they were 5. … It was a big deal, knowing I would be going to another class. I worked even harder.”

He had an advantage, however. The championships would be held in West Virginia, where the terrain is closer to what Sandelin practices on than what some of his fellow competitors are used to.

“West Virginia is more like home. More hills and stuff like that,” he said. “All those southern guys that are really good, they’re all used to flat ground, so that’s what threw them off.”

It bore out in the standings. Sandelin scored 513 points to top a field led by Kersey, Pennsylvania’s Alec Meyer.

“Usually it takes you a couple of years to get used to a new class and get used to everything else,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around it, knowing that I won the world championship beating some of the best in the world all-around.”

Now comes the question of the next step. Sandelin is preparing to tackle the Vegas Shoot in Las Vegas, which he called “the biggest shoot in the world.”

“That’s where I’ll really see where I am,” he said.

After that, he’s hoping the opportunity will arise to pursue archery professionally.

“I’d like to do this for a living,” he said. “I know I can do it, I just have to put the time in for it.”

Finding the drive won’t be a problem. For Sandelin, the interest won’t be fading anytime soon.

“Archery is just a whole different thing,” he said. “You can focus on yourself, and focus on one thing.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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