Six medals in six events. If it had happened in the Olympics it would have been front-page material, but because it occurred in wheelchair athletics, it went almost unnoticed.

Six medals in six events, however, are what Ken Archer won last month at the seventh National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Archer won four silver and two bronze medals, competing in the 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 meters and the two-kilometer races -- all in the same day.

Despite his many accomplishments -- winning the Boston Marathon wheelchair division in 1979 and, for a time, holding the national wheelchair records in the 1,500 meters and the 2K -- the soft-spoken Archer seems almost embarrassed at how much success he has had.

Archer, 38, lives in Bowie with his wife Marsha and their four children, and has worked for the Bureau of Labor Statistics for more than eight years. Born in Ohio, Archer was a track and cross country star at Wadsworth High School before serving in the Army from 1968 and 1971.

In 1970, Archer was trapped between two cars and, as a result, both legs were paralyzed and his left leg amputated just below the knee. After the injury, Archer was left with the feeling that many newly disabled people acquire: self-pity.

"In the beginning, I was really emotional," Archer said. "I'd go to {wheelchair} track meets and I couldn't understand why these people were trying to beat one another. I was self-conscious."

But things started to change when Archer began hearing about another disabled man named Bob Hall, who eventually became a pioneer in wheelchair athletics.

"They really didn't have wheelchair athletics when I was injured," Archer said. "But then I heard Hall was going to be in the Boston Marathon and I said 'That sounds like fun.' "

Hall and Archer became friends and, as their friendship grew, so did Archer's participation in wheelchair athletics. He began competing in meets and accomplished his first major goal with the Boston Marathon victory in 1979. But winning has never been the most important thing for Archer; he constantly sets personal goals and then takes aim at surpassing them.

"Breaking two hours in a marathon was always a goal of mine," said Archer, who crossed the finish line in Boston last year in 1:55.19. "But Boston was a downhill course. I also wanted to break two minutes on a flat course."

That, too, was accomplished this year in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1:58.07.

Archer's training routine consists of traveling between six and 21 miles a day in his wheelchair and, in the winter, training on rollers.

"We are athletes," Archer said. "We shouldn't be looked at as disabled patients having fun."

He says this because it is not always fun. Archer's muscular upper body is proof of his hard work. According to Archer, marathons in wheelchairs have the same effect on the participant as marathons on foot.

"In a marathon, I get very lightheaded towards the end," Archer said. "Also, if I'm in a competitive marathon, the arms will start fatiguing right around 20 miles."

Archer is generally considered one of the top five wheelchair athletes in the United States, a group which includes Laverne Achenbach, Phil Carpenter and Jim Martinson. Archer says he has always had trouble beating Martinson because he is a double amputee and has less weight to carry.

"My upper body is as strong as his, but I have 30 or 40 pounds of dead weight with my legs," Archer said. "In fact, I've always thought about having my legs cut off."

That sums up the competitive fire in Ken Archer. The whatever-it-takes-to-win philosophy. He is always looking for ways to improve on his times.

"The technology has gradually improved over the past 10 years," Archer said. "The chair I used in 1977 weighed 48 pounds and the one I use now is about 14."

As the chairs become lighter, the speeds become faster, and the risk of accident increases. This is a new concern in wheelchair athletics, which became more prominent after a frightening accident at the Boston Marathon this year involving a group of wheelchairs.

"My next chair is going to have hand brakes and I'm going to seriously consider getting a helmet," Archer said.

Archer hopes his example is helping younger disabled people get into the field of athletics and he cites the example of Craig Blansheete, 16, who lately has been winning consistently on the wheelchair circuit.

Archer also has some words of advice for those left with a feeling of self-pity after being disabled.

"When they see somebody who's worse off then they are struggling in a race, they should open their eyes to what's around them," Archer said. "There are people worse off trying a lot harder than they are."

But few, if any, are trying any harder than Ken Archer.