Friday, March 24, 2006

Going Pro in Epee & other painful delusions

I cannot force myself to accept the inevitable. Step one: hold epee. Step two: Introduce self – “Hi, I’m Elizabeth and I’m a...a...this is so hard. I'm a....fencing hobbyist. No, It’s a lie! Tell me I can go pro! (shouts of “grab her, she’s going for the trophy stand”)”

After a few conversations with Monica Kwan I have decided that turning pro isn’t a dream in Canada, it’s a nightmare, a very, very expensive nightmare. Let’s see if I can summarize: In Canada, you receive a competitive ranking based on events, but only Canadian events (which means from Victoria, the furthest event would be over 3,500 miles away, while the Leon Auriol Open in Seattle which is 80 miles away doesn't count). The rankings must be reclaimed EVERY year (Class C last’re nothing now!). Then, if you do well enough in rankings AND the nationals you get a national competitive card which lets you compete internationally.

Canada determines your international ranking based on seven different international competitions, which change each year. How well you do at these seven tournaments not only determines your international ranking but whether you get a) a card – which pays for your tuition and a stipend each month which currently doesn’t even cover travel costs and b) if you get on the National Team. During this critical first year, if you are top ranked you may be invited to be a HP (high performance) fencer and do extra training camps in Quebec. All of these, including transportation will be at YOUR expense. Monica said that first year she spent over $15,000 on the transportation alone. If she didn’t get the card for the second year, she couldn’t have continued. She did get the card, but now must compete not just against international competitors but against her teammates to get a card next year as each year there are LESS cards (even though this is a run up to the Olympics). She is however sponsored by the BC Fencers Association for $500. Yes, become the top fencer in BC and you get $500, less the $80 annual Association fee of course.

Monica goes to university, goes to national and international events, trains every day and works to cover her costs. The closest Canada has to a “professional” fencer is Sherraine Schalm-MacKay (pictured left) who is currently number 1 in the world in women’s epee, lives in Hungary instead of Canada because of the costs/training and still has to teach English to make money. This woman is the best fencer Canada has ever had. She is the number 1 in the world in her sport. She has been in the top 8 for the last six years and yet still cannot support herself through fencing. There seems something wrong with that (particularly when you find out that in France McDonalds sponsors the National Team).

If Amanda does well this year at Provincials and Nationals, she will have to make this decision: $20,000+ for a one year shot at international competition?

What about me, will I ever face that decision? I would like to say that what separates me from Amanda, Monica and other fencers is a fine line but in reality it is the grand canyon – they have young bodies, years of exclusive training (Mr. Ho sure does like them young) while I...

Let’s put it this way, the pain from epee fencing means I still don’t sleep the two nights I fence; add in running and that is three nights a week of pain pills, sedatives and moaning (the bad kind). The cost for me to go up to simply 5 days of training a week without a coach would be $2,000 (which I don’t have – if I did I would have a lot more clothes than I do!), plus another $3000-$5000 to go to Canadian events to compete.

This is high school PE all over again. They are “natural” athletes, while I am “the nerd.” It doesn’t matter that I think faster than they do or that I almost always want it more but in the end, can a slow-twitch, scoliostic, bruising and constant pain 30+ year old take out these 19-21 year olds? YES!!!!! Totally! Screw reality and pass the pain pills Linda!

When I ran marathons my parents would debate who I could have inherited athletic anything from as the entire family for multiple generations are good steady, always-picked-last-for-the-team people. I didn’t tell them I’m not naturally athletic, I’m just the most stubborn, bitchy, determined, borderline self-hating person I know. Oh, and arrogant, really arrogant. Who the heck is nature and the “laws of physics” to tell me what I can and cannot do?

Going to tournaments is a win/win for me. Since I haven’t gone before that means beating ANYONE improves my ratings (ha, I bet I can make that 13 year old cry!). Plus as I pointed out to Monica, even if I can’t go pro, by getting better and beating the other girls at tournaments, I can reduce their chance of going pro too! Monica looked appalled. I’m guessing either that isn’t the “proper” attitude or I have been fencing epee with the guys way too long.

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Anonymous said...

Liz, as I said, don't give up on the competition dream. Oh, and the attitude regarding demoralizing young children is excellent. I can't see why anyone would disapprove of that.

See you Monday, and hopefully my epee will be there. Gotta teach this new guy a lesson. ;o)


(Oh, "Big Bob's Epee" was every bit as disturbing as you mentioned. ;o) )

Anonymous said...

I just read your first epee blogpost. I had trouble preventing myself from collapsing in laughter, and waking up the household in the process.

And it wasn't this year, it was in total. 4 foils, 3 epees, and a saber. I disturb myself. ;o)

"The first day I met and fought William (or Bloody William as his first words were, “I’ve broken 6 foils this year” and he seems to continuously bleed somewhere, often into his mouth. He is 16 and seems to think this is normal)."

B.V. Brus said...

Huh. (Insert thoughtful silence here.)
I know there's no direct comparison between your experience and mine here in the southern US, but your observations about age/training and travel expenses struck a nerve. The issue of "resources" keeps rearing its ugly head in my pursuit of the dream -- the resources of age, time, funding, available coaching staff, and sometimes simply the proximity of other fencers to train with.
Keep writing. Keep fencing.