"Fencing's not a real sport!"
Countless times I've heard this statement thrown my way, the sender usually laughing absentmindedly and possessing no remorse for the discouraging words they've hit me with. Growing up, I was quick to retort with a carefully calculated comeback. I could hope to impress them with facts ("a fencer's sword is the fastest moving object in sports after a bullet!") or hit them with some history ("fencing is one of only four original Olympic sports!"), but usually it was to no avail. I learned to sit back and play it cool as my life's passion was turned into a mockery for the sake of conversation.
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow when basing your life around a sport that receives little to no attention on the collegiate level is the feeling of wasted passion. Completing your tenth practice of the week, jetting back and forth between continents, and finishing schoolwork on the side is no easy feat; it is also never one fencers demand credit for. However, one cannot help but feel a certain sting when told that all this hard work is for something silly and trivial, something that can be mocked, and something that is not even considered a "real sport."
The overall experience of competing in an often-unrecognized sport led me to think about sportsmanship and athleticism in general. Who gets to decide which sport is "real" and which is "fake"? Who has the authority to call one person an athlete, but deny that title to another? And finally, what is truly the makeup of a real athlete? I observe my teammates day in and day out, and am constantly inspired by their determination and work ethic. Watching such an outstanding group of girls over the last couple years has made me truly recognize what athleticism is at its best.
It's getting one more workout in when you're already tired and falling apart. It's staying after practice because you know going the extra mile will ultimately pay off in the end. It's meetings with coaches, watching film, and taking endless amounts of notes. It's spending every waking moment with your teammates, and knowing you can count on them just like they count on you- both inside and outside of the gym. It's the unparalleled feeling of life that will elevate any athlete, no matter how many people are in the stands, when given the chance to finally compete and prove yourself.
In the end it's living and breathing your sport and devoting yourself to something that becomes a part of you. This is an experience any athlete can relate to, regardless of the sport that they have dedicated their lives to. Most importantly, it is knowing that while the work may seem painful and endless, the reward is greater than anything every imaginable.
I'm truly blessed to be surrounded by a team that is the epitome of athleticism. It's been a busy first week back, full of workouts, yoga, practice and a Purple and White meet. Soon, we'll be on our way to the first meet of the regular season at Air Force [Saturday, Jan. 7]. For the past six years, Northwestern Fencing has been unbeaten in season-opening dual meets- a tradition we fully intend on continuing with the six teams we face this weekend.
Thank you for following us along on our journey, and I'm so excited to keep everyone updated all season long!
- Dayana Sarkisova