No expiration date: Chen Li Ju shooting for Chinese Taipei aged 37
Chen Li Ju is breaking the mould in Chinese Taipei.
The region has a world-class sports system full of university students in which most athletes finish competing in their late 20s, but Chen is competing internationally at the age of 37 – and her story is quite incredible.
After making her international debut as a compound archer at the worlds in Beijing in 2001, she switched to recurve and collected a bronze medal with the Chinese Taipei women’s team at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
Taipei beat France, 242-228, in the bronze final at those Games, when the event was still decided on cumulative scoring.
“It was a very special experience. There were so many experienced archers so me performing so well with so little time behind the bow was a surprise,” said Chen.
Five years and another world championships later, she was back on the international line with her compound. She’s continued to make the team intermittently and made the Chinese Taipei team in 2018.
“I first shot compound from 2000 to 2003. Then, I changed to recurve ahead of the Olympics in 2004, and afterwards, I went back to the compound because I just like it,” said Chen.
“For me it’s easy to go back and forward within bows because I’m a coach, so I know what it’s needed to shoot each of them.”
Chen works full-time teaching the sport at a university in Taipei City. She’s responsible for a group of 34 archers that shoot both recurve and compound bows – but when she makes the Chinese Taipei team, she leaves that role behind to live at the national training centre.
“It means one year without coaching,” she explained. “This is how I alternate my life. When I don’t make the team, I go home to coach.”
The Taipei women’s team, with Chen, won gold at stage two of the 2018 Hyundai Archery World Cup in Antalya, Turkey, beating world champion Korea in the final. It’s a team that has high aspirations as this season unfolds, especially at the Asian Games, and Chen’s experience could prove crucial.
“The athletes respect her. She calms them down because a lot of them are very young. In Turkey, she was the real grounding factor in the group,” said compound coach Robert Turner.
“She’s the older one, the most experienced one but it’s still a very good dynamic. It’s fun to see.”
One of Chen’s archery students at university also made the team in 2018.
Pan Yu Ping, a 24-year-old shooting his first year on the international circuit, said having his coach as a teammate was an asset:
“She can understand the competition conditions and what’s going through my mind. It’s good, I can talk with her.”
“When we’re at university in Taipei, there’s more coaching. Here, it’s training together because there are national coaches for both of us.”
Chen Li Ju is a university coach nearly a decade past the unwritten deadline for international archers in Chinese Taipei – which is around 28 years of age – who is still performing at an elite level as an athlete.
She’s picked up medals as both a recurve and compound archer, at Olympics and Universiades and on the World Cup circuit, with the Chinese Taipei team – and this year, she’s part of something special.
“I want to be better,” she said. “Archery is my life because when I’m not shooting, I’m coaching.”
“But I’m getting older and I have to work harder, work on my nutrition and work on my physical condition if I want to continue shooting like this.”
How much longer Chen continues to shoot for Chinese Taipei remains to be seen – but she is heading to Jakarta for the Asian Games in August, for an event that could make this year off from her day job all the more worthwhile.
Chen Li Ju was the world’s number 39 ranked compound woman as of 17 June 2018.