“Fencing Defeat” – by Tristan Szapary

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A 15-14 loss brings anyone’s spirits down. When it happens twice in one weekend, it is an even bigger blow. But when a one-touch bout is the only factor preventing you from representing your country at Cadet World Championships, the feeling is nothing short of heartbreak. In the Memphis Convention Center, I crumpled to my knees as my victorious opponent roared in celebration at the far end of the strip. At the last tournament of my final Cadet season, I had been given two chances to claim that third spot on Team USA and blew them both. 

After moping around for a couple of days, there was nothing left to do but move on. As a sophomore in high school, it seemed only natural to set my sights on a new horizon

––Junior Worlds, the ultimate comeback.

Nothing but disappointment followed. I had changed my goals but never adjusted the work I was putting in, and my training looked largely the same as the year prior. As my competitors continued to progress, I was left more frustrated than ever with a handful of lackluster results from my junior year season that further shook my confidence.

My coach sat down with me, as did my parents and teammates. They helped me piece together the factors that were holding me back, the steps needed to move forward, and most important of all––why I fenced in the first place. As a sophomore, I was just some kid who had switched over from foil to epee looking for a fresh start and was met with early success. Going into junior year, however, everything I did was about ranking and ratings and every tournament felt like a defeat. I am fortunate for the cohort of mentors and friends who reminded me of what was most important in this sport––a love of the game. The new perspective created a healthier motivation, and I approached my senior season with a whole new mindset: “It’s all about the fencing, not the results.”

Along with the shift in philosophy came a drive to train harder and work smarter. This meant longer lessons, harder footwork, heavier weights, and more time invested. The end goal was now to simply become the best fencer I could possibly be, and acquiring the coveted USA mask was no longer the center of my attention. Harder training meant better results, and by the end of this year’s season, I had qualified for the Junior World Team. More importantly, I had grown as an athlete. 

In the face of a pandemic, the globe is now encountering what feels like endless defeat. It was recently announced that World Championships would now be postponed to an unspecified date, or worse case, canceled. The decision was disappointing, but of course, justified. Now more than ever I remind myself of my new philosophy as I stay indoors, spend time with family, and do my blade work in the basement. The perspective informs other aspects of my world too that go beyond fencing. We all foster within us raw passions that never need validation from competitions, readers, audiences, or judges to feel like they deserve our attention. Many things have been lost due to COVID-19––money, time, life–– that we cannot get back, but it will never tarnish the love we hold for the games, sports, crafts, and passions that make our lives meaningful.