To encounter Yuan Jie Wenformer mechanical engineer and owner of Callowhill Archery, Philadelphia’s only archery range and training facility.
• Meeting vigilantes“Marvel’s Hawkeye has really put archery back in the spotlight. I make people say “I want to be like Hawkeye or Green Arrow”. ”
• On points: “Archery is literally the ballet of shooting. On stage you make it look graceful and easy, but behind the scenes it takes a lot of practice and discipline.
Growing up in the apartment above his parents’ Callowhill Tofu Factory, Yuan Jie Wen described himself as a “stay-at-home” kid who loved watching superhero cartoons.
Now Wen is helping people across the region to channel their own inner superhero at Callowhill Archery, his indoor archery range and training center which is housed in the former factory where his parents build their business.
“It’s very humiliating,” Wen, 32, said. “I feel like I’ve picked up where my parents left off.”
When Wen’s parents opened the Sun Kee Tofu Factory in 1990, he said they were among the first companies to bring tofu to the Philadelphia area and market it as a meat substitute.
“Now everyone has heard of tofu, but back then it wasn’t widely known,” Wen said. “And now I’m trying to promote a sport in a city where no one has done archery before.”
Growing up in Callowhill and then Lower Merion, where his family moved when he was 13, Wen dreamed of building machinery.
After graduating from Harriton High School in 2009, he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University. For six years thereafter, Wen worked designing industrial machinery for companies that made everything from conveyor belts to ovens.
But he discovered that the industry he had worked so hard in did not offer him the creativity he desired.
“I realized that every company I jumped into was the same thing all over again,” he said. “I had very specific work and instructions to do, and it was cool that we were building machines, but to solve real problems, there wasn’t much of that.”
In the summer of 2019, Wen visited a friend in New York who surprised him with a trip to Queens Archery, a shooting range in the city’s Flushing neighborhood.
“I had never seen archery in real life before,” Wen said. “The first thing I remember seeing was a lady shooting an Olympic-style bow, and I immediately noticed the sport was for everyone – no matter who you are, your age or your gender.”
Wen fell in love immediately, and when he returned to Philadelphia, he took lessons at B&A Archery in Tacony. He liked the way the sport cleared his head; how it forced him to focus on shooting and nothing else.
“Ninety percent of archery is in your mind,” he said. “It takes a lot of concentration and you can’t get emotional, so it’s very meditative.”
In 2020, when Gopuff moved out of the building that housed Wen’s family’s tofu business (the factory moved to North Philly in the early 2000s and was sold in 2014), Wen saw an opportunity to transform his new career passion.
“I wanted to teach people the sport, and I wanted to start a business that was good for society and where I could be creative,” he said.
Wen spent months renovating the building and asked friends to help paint the interior with black-and-white murals of notable Philadelphia landmarks like Independence Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
He designed his 90-minute beginners course – which he calls ‘The Urban Archer’ – for people aged 8 to 108, and on October 26, 2021, he opened the doors to Callowhill Archery. With B&A Archery closing last year, Wen said his indoor archery range is now the only one within the city limits.
Shortly after the opening, 77-year-old master archer Ray Caba of Holmes, who has two Delaware State Olympics gold medals (as well as a host of other titles), walked through the door and offered to help teach.
“He’s like an archery angel,” Wen said. “You don’t just find someone on his level; we are very lucky to have him.
Caba – who, while teaching a lesson last week, said things like, “There are two ways to hold the bow. One is right and the other is wrong,” said he was impressed with Wen’s passion and commitment.
“He’s the best person I’ve ever worked with in my life, and I’m teaching him to improve,” Caba said.
Eventually, Wen and Caba would like to put together a Philadelphia archery team to compete in tournaments, but for now, they’re happy to introduce the sport to others through the “Urban Archer” beginner class, a package. “Love and war” for couples. who love a little competition and a “Survival Sunday” program, where archers aim for foam zombies, raccoons, rats and groundhogs.
“I get a lot of heartfelt thanks, ‘thank you for opening the business’ and ‘thank you for showing us this,'” Wen said. “That’s the reason I did it.”
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