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Iowa fencing team leaves mark

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | OCTOBER 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Bethliz Irizarry joined Iowa's fencing club so she could actually hold a sword for once.

"In high school, we had a fencing club, but we weren't allowed to touch the weapons. Someone did something bad, and we just weren't allowed," she said. "I just thought, 'Well, that's cruel.' I learned the footwork, and after that, I decided I really wanted to do fencing.

"I actually applied to colleges with that in mind — I looked at colleges that had my major and fencing."

The club quickly became much more than a chance to combine a weapon with the footwork she had been practicing. Fencing was a source of consistency and fellowship for Irizarry.

"Freshman year, I wasn't adjusting well to Iowa, but then fencing was just very constant," she said. "There were things I like to do and people I liked to see here, so I just kept coming,"

Two years later, Irizarry is vice president of the group and said the relationships she has built while practicing and competing are worthwhile.

She isn't the only one to feel that way.

"My best friends are in fencing club, and I'm pretty sure everyone else will say that, too," club treasurer Evan Decker said. "We don't just hang out in practice or go to tournaments. If a week goes by where I don't see people outside of practice, it was a really bad week."

Not every member enters the club with as much experience as Irizarry did. Club President Sara Pettit said she joined the club on a whim as a freshman and found herself in love with competitive fencing shortly afterward.

"They needed someone for their competitive team, so they stuck me on it, and I went to Northwestern and competed with about a month of experience," Pettit said. "I had no idea what I was doing, but I had the best time of my life. I just stuck with it after that."

The club has grown significantly since Pettit's first month as president; the team now meets twice a week and competes with other Big Ten fencing squads — both as a group and individually — on a regular basis. Iowa will host a women's tournament in the Field House on Dec. 3.

Though fencing requires a hefty amount of equipment and may seem like a serious investment, the club typically provides for its new members.

"We have loads of practice weapons and electric weapons as well," Decker said. "It's nice having something when you come in that you don't have to spend a lot of money on."

The students' journey in fencing won't necessarily end in four years of school, either. Decker's affinity for the sport has driven him to seek a career opportunity that will keep him waist-deep in the sport he's grown so fond of as he moves towards his professional life.

"Right now, I'm contemplating athletics training as my major, and I've looked into being an athletics trainer at the Olympic Training Center [in Colorado Springs, Colo.] and working with the national team," Decker said. "I'm not sure if that will ever materialize, but if I could do that, it would be so sweet."

Whether members are new to the sport or well-versed in it, many say they see fencing as an important chapter of their life.

"I think it's something I can do even when I'm 45 years old and a haggard housewife," Irizarry said, smiling. "I know people with kids who go out a couple days a week and just fence for the heck of it. There are people well into their 60s in the club downtown.

"If I can stay that fit and awesome, I'm definitely going to stick with fencing the rest of my life."


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