Fencing star hopes to build on success


News staff writer

July 22, 2006

As a licensed pediatrician, Denise FitzSimon must live by the code of “do no harm.” However, put a sabre in her hands and she won’t be making any promises.

FitzSimon, a Texas native, moved to the area about five months ago and brought her fencing acumen along with her. After taking up the sport five years ago, she quickly rose up the ranks to becoming the third ranked fencer in the country in the women’s sabre 40-49 category. Despite her achievements she is the first to admit that fencing has not exactly caught on in the mainstream.

“It’s a different sport,” FitzSimon said. “I’ve had people ask me what kind of fence I like to build.”

She first picked up fencing after her son had taken up the sport. After starting out on the Epee, which is more predominant in Texas, FitzSimon eventually took up the sabre, favoring its faster attacking style. While other women her age were taking up yoga and exercise classes, FitzSimon decided she wanted a different form of exercise.

“I prefer something more active to get out my aggressive tendencies,” she said with a laugh.

Sabre fencing certainly has provided that. The sabre has a guarded handle and can be seen on the big screen in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

It is much faster form of fencing compared to the epee and foil, and competitors hack and slash at their opponents, rather than trying to poke them. With no extended swordplay, 15 point sabre matches can be over in less than a minute.

In epee and foil fencing the tip of the sword is electrified and registers a point when the tip is pushed against an opponent.

In sabre fencing, the entire length of the blade is hooked up to the scoring system, and points can only be scored on blows above the waist. This means that sabre fencers have to worry about more than just being poked by the blunt tip of a blade, they have to watch out for being clubbed across the head as well, slashed on the shoulders and having their arms hacked at.

The suits that FitzSimon and other fencers wear are lined with Kevlar to stop any chance of the dull blades actually stabbing competitors. They do nothing to stop the bruises from hard sabre blows.

University of Texas fencing Coach Paul Schimelman, under whom FitzSimon trained the past several years in Texas, believes that FitzSimon and the sabre are a good fit.

“(Sabre fighting) is a tendency for those who like to get out and fight hard,” Schimelman said. “Its part of her nature.”

To rise to her current level, FitzSimon has had to defeat younger, faster women. However, thanks to competitors like FitzSimon, more people are picking up the sport later in life, and realizing that they have a knack for it.

“It is becoming more and more commonplace these days with the way the sport is evolving,” Schimelman said.

FitzSimon’s love of fencing has not been without its bumps in the road, though.

In her first-ever competition FitzSimon had to square off against the Mexican national champion and lost 5-1. She walked into another competition to find out that she would be facing a former Olympian.

“He whipped my you-know- what…but it was really cool,” FitzSimon said. “There just aren’t many sports like that.”

Having competed against former Olympians and fenced against national champions from different countries, FitzSimon next hopes to take her game to the next level with the U.S Senior World Team when she reaches the minimum age limit of 50.

Latest stories

Latest video:

Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

Log in to comment

News from our Community Partners