I had just been eliminated early from a recent World Cup.
Frustrated by my early exit, I wasn’t exactly in the best mood as I changed out of my whites and put on my warm ups. It’s times like this when I find myself questioning my fencing and what I am working towards. Is all the hard work actually paying off? Is fencing really worth the blood, sweat, tears, time and dedication?
After an hour or so I regained my composure and headed back strip-side to watch some fencing.
While I was watching, one of the other Americans, who had suffered a similar fate, came over and started watching the same bout that I was. After talking about the bout for a while, the conversation turned more personal, about our goals and general plans for achieving them. Then he asked me a surprising question:
“Why are you doing this?”
The question itself is simple enough but it implies so much more. Why do you fence? Why do you work so hard to get better at it? What is the end goal? Why does the end goal matter? Is it worth the incredible amount of sacrifice?
I had been asking myself similar questions not an hour before in my head, but it still caught me off guard. Maybe it was just because he said it out loud or maybe it was because of how succinctly he articulated what I had been thinking about. Either way, it made me focus on the question.
I realized that there are a lot of reasons and after a few moments of thinking about it I bumbled through my explanation.
One possibility is that I’m just crazy. (Aren’t we all a little nuts though when you think about it? We spend insane amounts of money to run around poking each other with sticks after all.)
On the other hand, there’s something about the thrill of the competition that makes me feel alive, invigorated. Each opponent is a challenge worth overcoming. I feel like I could be great at this sport. Fencing provides me a chance to become the very best I can be at something. Maybe I could even become great at the highest level. While reaching the top of a small sport like fencing doesn’t offer much from the perspective of fame or money, being able to know that you’ve achieved greatness in something in life, no matter how small, is a personal victory worth striving for.
That being said, the odds are stacked against me becoming one of the best fencers in the world no matter how much work I put in. That adversity gets under my skin and makes me just want to prove everyone else that I can do it anyway.
I already get so much fulfillment from other areas of my life though. I have a loving and supportive family, friends, and significant other. I was blessed with opportunities for an amazing education, a good job and endless other possibilities for myself. If I were to pour all of my energy into any number of other endeavors, sports or otherwise, I could probably get all the same emotional benefits I called out above. So why fencing?
What it comes down to is that I love the sport. I have a ton of fun doing it. The mental aspect, the physical aspect, the competitive aspect all play a part but what it all boils down is that I love fencing. Even when I hate it and feel like all my effort isn’t making me any better. Even when I suffer disheartening defeat after disheartening defeat, I still love it (just maybe a little less at that moment). Each time I lose makes it feel that much more uplifting when I win. By becoming as good as I possibly can be at fencing, I get the chance to experience more of the sport at a higher and higher level.
After mulling this over, I asked this rather poignant question to a few other top US fencers too. Here’s what they had to say. I encourage you all to Like/Follow these athletes on their various social media pages to help support them as they try to take their fencing to the highest level possible.
You can like my Facebook page here and follow my Twitter handle here. And as always, be on the lookout for the latest articles on thefencingathlete.com for more articles from the top fencers in the country.
2012 US Olympic Medalist and top women’s epeeist, Courtney Hurley – “I fence because I like the challenges it presents. Fencing is a very difficult and challenging sport in that you have to have athleticism, tactics and technique and each person I fence is a completely new challenge. No two people (at least in épée) fence the same and I like figuring out how to win in each scenario. That brings me to the second part of the question. I put all my work into it because I love to win and I love being the best I can be at the sport that I love. I not only love to win, but I hate to lose. This motivates me in every aspect of my life and especially in fencing.” Like her Facebook page here and check out her Instagram @thathurleygurrl.
2012 US Olympian and top women’s foilist, Nzingha Prescod – “I can’t speak for the whole USA team but for me fencing has really become a part of who I am, and without it I would feel almost empty. It gives my life structure and a direction… an ultimate goal and purpose that contributes to my overall growth as a person. Competing at such a high level for the last 6 or 7 years has really fueled my ability to discipline myself, take educated risks, be productive, patient, persistent, and efficient all while maintaining life balance. Through fencing I’ve learned some of the importance of the most vital principles of life. It gives me the opportunity to achieve things few other people can say they did so that when I’m old and grey, I can look back at my experiences and know I lived a full, accomplished life. Anyone can make a lot of money but doing something you love is the most satisfying feel especially when you have the opportunity and resources to become the best at it. That’s something no one can ever take from you.” Follow her on Twitter @zingzang14 and like her Facebook page here.
Top 10 US men’s saberist, Andrew Fischl, (aka Cyrus of Chaos)- “I decided to start fencing because the idea of learning how to sword fight was very appealing to me. Once I realized it wasn’t exactly the sword fighting that I had imagined, I continued to fence because I really liked the combined mental and physial aspect of it. I like to take everything that I like to do to the highest level that I can so that I can see how my understanding of it compares with everyone else’s.”
photo by Dalibor Plavsic
2012 Olympian and top women’s foilist, Nicole Ross– “One of the reasons why I fence and compete on the highest level is because I am constantly unveiling and learning new things about fencing. I think it’s impossible to discover the “secret” to fencing as the sport is constantly evolving and changing. This evolution presents new challenges, daily, so trying to understand the subtle changes and intricacies of the sport keeps me interested and constantly striving for my personal best. Also, anyone who has coached me or been on a team with me knows that I live for that one great touch. Our national coach, Buckie Leach and my teammates, were making fun of me the other day at our team event in Italy because when I score a touch that has been eluding me all day, or one that I think was executed perfectly, I turn around and look at them with a huge smile on my face. It’s pretty goofy but that feeling I get from knowing I did something exactly at the right time or finally executed something I’d been working hard on in practice fills me with a sense of satisfaction and joy that’s hard to describe. I guess that’s my combined love for the sport and competition showing through. Also, the Olympics as the highest level of achievement in fencing keeps me striving for that every day. Especially after having made the Olympic Team once before, I am motivated to reach for that level again. There’s nothing quite like the Olympics and that feeling is another reason I put in the time and the work.” Like her Facebook page here.
US Sr World team member, Kat Holmes- “The reasons why I fence and pursue fencing at the highest level are different. The reason why I fence is purely because of love of the sport. I played a lot of sports when I was a kid, but fencing just stuck. It has brought me to so many wonderful places (both metaphorically and physically speaking) and has introduced me to so many wonderful people. The reason why I pursue fencing at the highest level is because I am driven to try and be the best I can be. I feel that I have been given the opportunity to work towards something great, to potentially be something great. That thought and motivation drives me and keeps me training even when the going gets tough.”
Sr World Team member and top ranked men’s epeeist, Adam Watson – “I fence because the competitive nature of the unique sport allows me pursue a rigorous physical and mental balance in training and competing, which I find immensely rewarding. I put in all the work to try and succeed at the highest level because the closer you get to achieving the highest level in the country or world, the harder you have to work to gain even marginal advancements. As you get better, the challenges you encounter become more specific and less rudimentary, and there is a constantly changing platform which you are working towards. The thrill of learning new things about the sport and yourself in this pursuit, keeps it interesting” Like his Facebook page here.
2012 Olympian, World Team member and top men’s saberist, Daryl Homer – “I fence because I love pure competition. It’s one on one, me vs. my opponent. You can feel your opponent’s energy and emotions, it’s almost as if you’re in sync. There’s nothing more exciting that competing with an opponent whose on your level, and outmaneuvering them to victory. It’s almost like a clash of wills. Clearly I compete at the highest level to win as many Olympic and World Championship medals as possible, but it’s more than that. I HATE losing, but I’ve grown to understand that it’s part of the process. Pursuing fencing at the highest level gives me personal satisfaction, but also pushes me to new heights in other areas of my life. I’ve successfully used skills honed in fencing to start my professional career in advertising. The work ethic, gut instincts, and creativity I’ve honed on the strip make me formidable in my everyday life. My continued drive to perfect these skills continue to drive me to pursue fencing on the highest level. In the end I want to know that I was on top, and to retire without any regrets.” Like his Facebook page here and follow him on Twitter @DarylDHomer.
Sr World Team member and top women’s saberist, Eliza Stone– “I am training for the 2016 Olympics because I want to know whether I can be counted among the best in my sport. At the beginning, fencing was a game I loved; it was a mode of escapism that enabled me to leave behind everyday life. While growing up, fencing helped teach me to be competitive and to work hard. And over time fencing became a bit of an obsession. I now have an overwhelming curiosity that drives me; I need to know whether, after all these years I have committed to this sport, I have it in me to contend with the best in my field. I must know the answer to this question. I am training and competing now because I have only one small window of opportunity in my life in which I can find this out, and I know that I will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t make the most of my chances now.” Like her Facebook page here and follow her on Twitter @elizastone2016.