Fencing star hopes to build on success

By BEN MCCARTY

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.

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