The Irish Olympic Fencing Team

Fencing is serious business in France. I should have guessed that people here liked it, since the only time I had ever seen it in person was at the French heritage festival in Vergennes, VT a few years ago. However, I’m not that quick, so only after I saw the town plastered with posters for an upcoming fencing showcase did I put fencing and France together.
Despite the magnitude of the fencing event and encouragement from our new friends (the parents of Harry & John), we had no real plans to attend. No amount of swordplay could get me out of my backyard on that beautiful sunny day, but our friends did go and absolutely loved it. Apparently it was a showcase of a young boys most desired dream, including:

  • getting dressed up in a cool outfit (including a mask)
  • wearing cool gloves
  • being plugged in to an electric socket (the way they keep score)
  • and wielding a very long sword

Immediately my friend Louise’s sons were sold on the idea of fencing lessons.

Another fact about fencing in France is that, despite it’s popularity among the adult set, there is waning interest among younger people. The next generation is much more interested in futbol. So, in an effort to boost interest and find some new recruits, Louise found out that they were offering free fencing lessons to anyone who was interested, from now until the end of the school year. FREE LESSONS? Sign us up!

On the day of the first lesson, Owen was still not sure about it. He had no idea what to expect and was nervous to make any commitment to a sport that he hadn’t seen in person in the recent past. On the other hand, Eamon was not only ready to sign up, but he wanted me to invest in the entire outfit. I assured Owen that we could watch for a while and he could join in if he chose to. I also assured Eamon that I would not be buying an entire fencing outfit that day, no matter how much he liked the sport.

Once we got to the gym, we met the teacher who was named Uri and who was very nice to us, despite his limitations in English and ours in French. I was trying to explain that Owen was going to watch for a little while before he decided if he would join in, but something (read: everything) was lost in translation. Uri immediately took both boys to the jacket rack and not only found fencing jackets to fit them, but also stuffed the boys into them and proceeded to zip them up. Clearly there are no tentative Americans allowed in the sport of fencing – you’re either in or OUT.

Since Owen & Eamon were completely new, as were Louise’s 2 sons and the other little boy they dragged along, Uri decided to give them a private lesson, rather than make them learn to fence with the more experienced children. The next hour involved an intense lesson in the art of fencing and all of the French vocabulary to go with it. It started with foam swords and ended with full face masks and real foils (the real word for fencing swords). Luckily, there was no electricity involved at this early stage, which made it only slightly less frightening. I couldn’t believe my eyes – my boys fighting with swords in a controlled environment. I realized in that moment that this experience was either a blessing or a curse. A blessing because now they may be eligible to get a college scholarship without playing the oboe, or a curse because now they have free rein to duel at home in the name of fencing.

As Louise and I watched the five boys during their lesson, I wondered aloud if there would be any hope of seeing this gang on the Olympic Fencing Team someday. We decided that their best bet was to compete for a country that has a very poor fencing program, similar to the way that all of the second rate US ice skaters to move to Latvia to make an appearance at the Olympics. Since Louise is Irish (and thought that it was very likely that Ireland has a poor fencing program – if one at all), we decided that we could be in the presence of the 2024 Irish Olympic Fencing Team. Go Ireland!

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