Fencing may not be at the top of many people’s list of up-and-coming sports, but its growth and booming participation say differently. As USA Fencing president Don Anthony said at Tuesday’s COMMITTED event, the niche sport’s popularity is rising across the country and especially flourishing in Columbus.
The third event of the COMMITTED series, designed to provide women the opportunity to engage with inspiring professionals and celebrate the power of sport in our community, was held during the USA Fencing National Championships and July Challenge. The event is the largest fencing tournament in the world, bringing over 5,400 fencers from 48 states and 20 countries to Columbus.
Professionals and the local fencing community alike listened as three impactful voices in the fencing industry discussed the sport’s growth and the life lessons it teaches young athletes.
Anthony, who also serves as the head coach of Ohio State Fencing, spoke on the rise of fencing in the United States at every level, from youth programs to Olympic successes. He reflected on his own introduction to the sport and the role of USA Fencing when talking about the importance of making the sport available to young athletes everywhere.
“[In 2015], we won the diversity and inclusion award,” Anthony said. “That’s just a reflection of the people who have been coming to our sport, the fact that we’ve made it accessible to different organizations… and then the focus of our national office of making sure that anyone’s who’s interested as access.”
One of the main decision-makers at the national office, Kris Ekeren, also joined the panel. As the executive director of USA Fencing, Ekeren spoke about her “life mission to make lives better through sport” and the unique factors of fencing that influence its growth.
“One of the things I love most about fencing is it’s really a lifetime sport from when you’re young all the way to as long as you want to go,” Ekeren said. “We see a lot of parents get involved where their kids pick up the sport and the parents fall in love with it and they start to fence even in their adulthood.”
As the talented youth that learn the sport grow up, fencing becomes momentous at every age. The collegiate fencing field has become more competitive, and at the peak of that collegiate training is Ohio State.
“Ohio State’s fencing program is recognized as a top fencing program throughout the NCAA level,” Anthony said. “In four years, we will be celebrating 100 years as a fencing program.”
Katarzyna Dabrowa is a testament to the high level of talent and dedication to the sport that exists in Columbus. A former NCAA national champion at Ohio State, Dabrowa now continues her fencing career as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes. Just a few years removed from her own time competing, Dabrowa said she is passionate about teaching the next generation, on and off the fencing strip.
“We are taking a comprehensive approach to a student-athlete not only as an athlete, also as a student and also as someone who is going to graduate at some point and look for a professional career,” Dabrowa said.
For Anthony, the sport teaches valuable life lessons as a “gentleman’s game” in the form of a combat sport.
“You have to manage your emotions when you have a weapon coming at you at that speed,” Anthony said. “It tends to make you focus, and if you can take that focus into the rest of your life, it sets you up very well.”
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