It was a place where McKinney had been before. As he recalls, "My archery career began so badly that just about everyone told me to pick another sport." He has told the story a hundred times, of his Muncie, Ind. boyhood, how his father bought a used 1953 Ford pickup truck and found, in the back, a target-shooting bow. Paul McKinney started shooting in tournaments and at target ranges, and, one by one, he began taking his five sons along. Rick, 10 at the time, was the youngest, so he got to go last. His father and his siblings would hover around him at a range, saying things like "Hold your bow straight," or "Let go—now." His typical score was, maybe, 68, and perfection is 300. He was happy if the arrow merely went in the right direction. Finally, after practicing for five months, he entered a tournament, but his arrows kept landing on the ground in front of the target, so, impatiently, he shot the rest of them any which way. His father grabbed his bow and threatened that if he did it again, he would have to "go and stay in the car."
In eighth grade, as a 110-pound pole vaulter, McKinney loved "the thrill of going up in the air, never knowing how high," but he was never to go higher than 12'6". And he also loved "that perfect feeling" in archery, "becoming part of the bow and arrow, getting that tingling sensation in my arms and shoulders." He decided that his future was with archery. He practiced for three to six hours every day, and in 1973 took fifth place at the world championship trials. Only the top four archers qualified, and McKinney lost out on his final shot, a six, to Pace—the sport's greatest rivalry had begun. McKinney couldn't have known that then. He says, "For a while there I never wanted to see another bow."
He seemed a little bit lost. Out of high school with no immediate plans for college, he worked for six months at a Burger Man restaurant, for one year in a grocery-store produce section and for another as a drill-press operator. And all the while he was finishing second to Pace in tournaments. Finally, a third at the 1976 nationals—Pace won again—convinced McKinney, as he says now, that "my illustrious career was over. I figured, 'That's it. I'm not getting any better.' "
He did qualify for the 1977 worlds but felt he had no chance to win. So he just went to enjoy himself, strangely free of stresses and anxieties—and he won. Pace finished fourth and, in national competition, more often than not, that's how it has been ever since.
McKinney's progress is a tribute to his skills and determination, but his housemate is a big plus, too. Her name is Sheri Rhodes; she is a quiet, attractive 28-year-old and the head archery coach at Arizona State. McKinney met her in July of 1979 at the National Sports Festival. He had decided that he wanted a college education, and a full-tuition archery scholarship happened to be available at ASU. He drove out from Indiana in his Jeep the next January, and he and Rhodes have been together ever since.
She said nothing about his shooting form until that September, and then only that he'd been dropping his bow arm at the time of release. It wasn't a serious flaw, she assured him, but it could be eliminated. "I worked it out," McKinney says. "My form is much more solid now."
Rhodes and McKinney live in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale in a 10-year-old white stucco town house whose appurtenances include three cats, Cleo, Sheba and Freckles; the obligatory Phoenix ceiling fans; a 7-foot-tall, $1,600 grandfather clock; and a Samurai war helmet, Maori war machete, Benedictine bowl, Polish lead-crystal vase, kachina doll, kangaroo-skin wall hanging and various other awards and artifacts from the six continents on which McKinney has competed. Their kitchen is amply stocked with his dietary specialties—cookies and ice water, corn chips, hot sauce and bean dip, and dry-roasted peanuts. And outside, black widow spiders—the curse of a wet winter—hide in the tool shed and in the shadows around McKinney's Kawasaki 750 motorcycle, while the Arizona sun beats mercilessly down, turning a rarely used antique 1940 Plymouth into a steel sauna.
McKinney likes to quote a Zen master in the Herrigel book: " 'Whoever makes good progress in the beginning has all the more difficulties later on.'
"It took me 10 years to reach the top," he says, "but I learned what I was doing. If it had gone easily for me at the start, when I finally ran into problems I wouldn't have known how to solve them. I'd be too deeply into my habits."
On that last afternoon at Long Beach, McKinney was saying, "Pace gave me five years of anguish, but he motivated me by beating me. He was always one step ahead. I'd shoot an awesome six arrows, and he'd be one better. And he always had a little grin on his face."