Chapter Seven: Lightning

In the six weeks or so between the qualifiers and the championships, I don't think Jordan or I missed a single week of the Swordsmen. After all, this was big. This was confirmation that we really were coming into our own, and we could hold our heads up and say without a twinge of doubt that we were two of the best fencers in the region. Hell, this was pretty much the first time in my life that I could say I was the best at anything, and I'd be lying if I said that my head wasn't swelling at least a little bit. Before I knew it, it was time to go to New Hampshire.

It may look like all us northeastern states are bunched together, but it still took a solid four or five hours to get up to the University of New Hampshire. It was a rather dreary place, and I don't think we left the hotel our entire stay except to go out for dinner and for the competition itself.

The event was held in the university's ice hockey arena, an odd experience to say the least. The fencers were all right, being bundled up in our five layers of canvas, but everyone else was freezing. There were actually two rinks, both being fenced on, and there was only a very thin gate connecting the two of them--it bottlenecked up real quick, and everyone just kind of stayed on their side unless they really had a reason for leaving. I saw all the Long Island faces there-Jordan first, then Mike Kreidman, Greco, Miller, and all the rest. Mike was hanging around some of the other Garden City fencers there. I knew most of them, but realizing that they all had qualified to come here was my first indication that they were going to be a much stronger team than they had been in the past. There was Dan Stravino, who had gotten one of the last qualifying spots in our event. There were the Wangner siblings, Ryan and Lauren, both on epee. There was Paul Livanos, a young foil fencer. Ryan and Paul were only in 8th grade at the time--the Garden City coach, Dennis Daly, had started to recruit out of their junior high school several years ago. Mike himself had started in 8th grade; Paul and Ryan had begun in 7th!

It was a wise strategy…everyone starts from scratch, so the sooner people start, the sooner they can start improving. In fencing, it takes decades to reach a plateau--you're always improving. By tenth grade, there's a big difference between a "veteran" fencer who started in 7th grade and a true sophomore who's still learning some of the basics. We begged our coach to at least let us try to recruit some younger members, but he always thought it wasn't worth the effort (Gaby and Raquel were exceptions, I guess, and we never had anyone from middle school after that).

It was the same format as the qualifiers had been: pool rounds all the way through, top three from each pool advances to the next round. I went 3-2 in the first round, finishing second. I could tell immediately, though, that this was a totally different level of competition…there were very few "gimmie" matches, and by the end of the first round all of the fencers providing them had been easily eliminated. The semifinals were slightly harder than the finals of the qualifiers had been, and I got eliminated from the competition after going 1-4. Jordan suffered a comparable fate. Of the two Garden City fencers in the same event, Mike managed to make the finals, while Paul Stravino had a horrible day and was scratched out after the first round.

Standing around after the competition, I started to wonder if it had been worth it. I had dragged my parents hundreds of miles across New England for the "honor" of seeing me lose most of my matches and leave competition after two and a half hours, with nothing to show for it except for a few bumps and bruises. Was it worth the time, effort, and money I had poured into it? Was it worth the practices, the sweat, the blood? As if answering my thoughts, my parents wandered over…they said how proud they were of me even getting there, and that seeing me happy fencing was all they needed to make them happy. They told me that I'd discovered something very special, something that most people couldn't do, and that to even think of giving it up just because I'd failed a few times along the way would be a mistake.

Up to RimRod's Fencing Autobiography
Back to Chapter Six: Thunder
Forward to Chapter Eight: Transitions

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