I was sitting by my strip, my foot tapping waiting for my match to be called, sweat profusely dripping down my neck as my fingers clutched my blade and eyes locked with my opponent’s.
For this year’s national championships I was feeling my entire fencing career was on the line, and I had to make sure I came out of the match as a winner.
Spoiler alert: I lost.
Wallowing in defeat, compartmentalizing all those “what ifs” and “buts” in the back of my mind, I overheard my teammates talking about going to catch the latest Spiderman blockbuster.
Naturally, I pictured myself turning around during the match to see that none of my teammates had stayed to watch. But, of course, I didn’t confess anything about this deep, dark fear aloud. They continued with their plans, for everyone to agree except Brian Ko.
Ko avoided leaving. He “didn’t like Spiderman” and his “mom wouldn’t let him go,” tons of random, obviously made-up excuses.
At first, I was genuinely confused. But as my teammates were running out to catch their Uber to the theater, it hit me. Ko, knowing how important this match was to me, had stayed behind to cheer me on.
Ko is not who you would imagine to be a 16-year-old girl’s best friend. You can talk to him for hours thinking only 10 minutes have gone by. He eats meals meant for an entire village by himself and still is the skinniest person I know.
Although he may have the worst sense of style I have ever seen, he resembles the passion that fencing brings to people’s lives. I don’t think I ever told Ko how much this moment meant to me and how often it replays in my head, but it’s these small moments that fuel my competitive vigor.
Fencing, aside from the sport itself, has given me so many opportunities and moments of joy. From late-nights scootering around an unfamiliar city with friends from all over the country to cheering too loudly for my teammates, fencing plays a much bigger role in my life than just an activity.
Many might think of fencing as simply an extracurricular to boost their collection of accolades. To me, fencing means so much more than a few lines on a college application or an interesting hobby.
Fencing is turning around after you get a point and seeing your friends cheer and your coach look proud. Fencing is the sweat, tears, and losses. On top of that, fencing is defined by the people who are involved in it and the relationships I build with them.
Fencing is the friends, plane rides and city, just as much as it is the competition and rush for victories. Fencing is even the late nights at practice doing a thousand jump ropes and the nachos I eat with my sister right after doing them.
A tournament sparks the fire to do better. A new practice partner becomes a lifelong friend. Fencing drives the many aspects of my life that make up my character and pushes me to achieve more while having a great time doing it.
Being a fencer doesn’t mean winning all the matches: your ranking doesn’t define you. Fencing is all about the wins, the losses, the experience and the memories you make with the best people you’ll ever meet.