In the past decade, the sport of archery has increased in popularity, thanks in part to its presence in franchises such as “The Hunger Games,” “The Avengers,” “Arrow” and “The Lord of The Rings.” But a Montgomery business is showing customers and students that the practice is much more than what is shown on screen.
Started in January 2017, and opened in Montgomery near Route 31 and Orchard Road in December of the same year by Montgomery residents Kevin and Michelle Helwig, The Archery Place offers a target range, classes, rentals, repairs and sales to archers and those just getting into it.
Archery, Kevin Helwig said, is a “night and day” difference from what is seen in television and on film. “It’s highly structured, it’s one of the safest sports and recreational activities out there ... considering it’s an actual shooting sport. It provides focus; there’s a lot of things to think about. Archery is 95 percent mental and 5 percent doing it.”
“There’s a lot of history involved in the development of where we are today,” he said.
Kevin’s love of archery started after he left the military, and went hunting with a group of family and friends. After a discussion of how the bow hunting season was longer than gun season, the group decided to give archery a shot. When the Helwigs were wed, Kevin received a gift card to a sporting goods store that he used to purchase a bow, learning the quick basics from a store attendant.
“I took my first shot, and fell in love with how the arrow hit the target, but it was also instant pain because that string brushed across my arm,” he joked. “Nobody ever taught me how to do it.” Kevin Helwig searched for training opportunities, and found a local instructor course, eventually earning his certification. “I decided that this was something that I had to teach other people,” he said.
After getting his instructor license, and joining a now-defunct archery club, Kevin Helwig founded the nonprofit Northern Illinois Archery Organization, and started teaching at local park districts and sponsoring events in the community in an effort to “make archery mobile.”
“We had a lot of people taking classes, and after they got done taking classes, they developed an affinity to wanting to continue on, and wanted to buy bows,” Helwig said. “At the time, we didn’t have any way for people to buy equipment. ... I was like, ‘You know, a lot of people want to get into this, maybe we should pursue this idea.’”
Creating The Archery Place, Kevin Helwig said, “allowed us to be able to be put in a position to better support people who want to get into this sport and take the classes to learn how to do it, to open that door to this world. We’re the gateway into the archery world, so from start to however long you want to be in it.”
“It’s actually a lower-cost alternative to team sports,” Michelle Helwig said. “Some of the team sports are super expensive to get into. ... It’s definitely not that expensive to get into archery as a sport.”
Archery appeals to all, the Helwigs agreed, from those with special needs, to children and adults, to those with ADD and ADHD – thanks to the focus and routine of archery – and everybody has a different reason for getting into archery, Kevin Helwig said.
“It’s one of those sports that for many years – it’s gotten more popular over the past few years – but for many years, it had a stigma attached that it was only for the bow hunter to practice someplace in the offseason,” he said. “People attach bow hunting with archery, and it’s evolved ... it’s very low-impact, it provides exercise, it gets you out from in front of the TV and the phone and physically doing something. It’s one of those lifelong sports.”
“Just doing classes, we get a lot of youth that are not very good at other sports: basketball, baseball, soccer. Either they can’t run, they can’t catch, they get picked last to be on teams in school; there’s a lot of bullying that goes on in school, and we see a lot of low self-esteem,” Kevin Helwig said. “So when they come in here, because archery is an individual sport, not a team sport, the only person that can say anything about how they shoot is them.”
As a coach, Helwig said that his job is to tell students not to get frustrated, but to learn and try again.
“Once they hit that bull’s-eye, it becomes life-changing. It’s just amazing, that’s where a lot of the awards come in,” he said.
“And it’s something they did on their own; they didn’t rely on any teammates to help them do it, they did that on their own,” Michelle Helwig added. “It’s something they can be proud of for themselves.”