I remember my parents’ car trudging through the streets of Rochester, the mountains of snow lining the road, the swift turn onto Main Street, and the red-brick armory towering into view as my heart began to pound louder and louder. Flower City Super Youth Circuit, late November, 2008. This was my first fencing competition.
That day is now a jumble of memories. Some bouts were won, some lost, and drama was experienced from pools to DE’s. The day finished off with a 3rd place medal and a celebratory dinner before the sleepy drive home. I will never forget the feeling of that first competition: the strangest mix of both exhilaration and terror. I was hooked. Yet, I never could have predicted that this day would start my journey towards the halls of Harvard University.
I first learned about fencing through my father. He had fenced as a teenager and young adult in Poland. Ever since I can remember, he instilled in me the value and importance of sport. I grew up playing lots of tennis, but the first time I tried fencing, I knew this was the sport for me. I was eight years old.
From the very beginning, I trained under Coach Dariusz Gilman. As I grew, his program expanded too. I got taller, practices got longer, and the exercises got harder. Around the time I was ten, I began competing in regional and national tournaments. Fencing followed me throughout middle school, when I started to understand what the words hard work, discipline, and commitment really meant.
Flash-forward to high school: after growing up under Coach Dariusz’s program for so many years, I got to help set up the floor tiles of Capital Fencing Academy and celebrate its grand opening. From thereon out, everyday after school, I would come straight to the club. Training hard and competing had pushed me higher up the rankings, giving me the opportunity to start competing internationally in World Cups. Representing Team USA, I traveled to Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Costa Rica.
At the same time, with all the school I was missing, I had to learn how to hustle to complete all my homework. I could often be found sprawled across the floor of an international airport writing an essay or hunched over my tray table in an airplane attempting to understand Calculus. Focusing on fencing helped me get focused inside the classroom, earning me a recruiting slot on the Harvard Fencing Team. None of this was easy, but looking back, I can say without a doubt that all that hard work has paid off.
I was lucky to have found this complex and intriguing sport. The beauty of fencing is that, unlike many other sports, it fits any body type, like pingpong. Fencing not only molded me into an athlete, but also taught me how to manage my thoughts and emotions during nerve-racking moments of competition. I was also lucky to have had the full commitment of my parents in the pursuit of fencing. Throughout the years, they supported me both financially and emotionally. Without them, it would have been impossible for my fencing dreams to become reality.
I can’t say it any simpler: Fencing changed my life. I will forever be grateful for this sport, for all my coaches, and for the amazing fencing community I’ve been a part of. The lessons I’ve learned from fencing have continued to follow me off the strip and become a guiding philosophy for my life. At practice, it was always about more than fencing. It was about living up to one’s potential and becoming better each and everyday.
Today, I am proud to be a Capital alum, Harvard student, and Harvard Fencing Team member. My story shows that dedication to both academics and athletics can open doors of opportunity and achievement.