I knew that my skill set in foil fencing was limited, but I wanted to improve. There was a time in my life when the sabre and foil would have frightened me so much that I never would have dared to pick one up. Maturity makes a lot of things that are larger than life suddenly seem manageable. I had been practicing for months to do a small local competition. I should have known when I saw my competitor that she was going to play dirty.
What It Was Like Suiting Up
First, the unisex padded jacket with a back zipper was a real challenge for me. All the padding mashed me in places where I didn't want to be touched, and it felt like I couldn't breathe. I ended up having to reach one hand over one of my shoulders and the opposite hand up my back to keep wriggling the zipper until it was all the way at the neck. I really wanted fencing gear to be much easier to manage.
The jacket went on over a plastic chest protector that was made of hard plastic. Since my body filled the protector completely, there was no way my breasts were ever going to be exposed to the harm of a sabre or foil dressed like this. I had a choice of using a single protector or smaller plastic shields, one for each breast. I chose the uniboob because it seemed easier.
The pants were my favorite part of this get-up. They hugged my curves and looked almost nice enough to be fashionable beyond the competition. The heel protector, underarm protector, cuff, sleeves and the sabre lame were easy after getting the jacket and under-garment gear in place. I knew men had chest protectors, but I was pretty sure they did not have to go through so much just to dress for the occasion.
How I Became Distracted
Crowds were not an unusual thing for me. I had been doing public speaking for years, starting with a lot of good cheerleading from my local Toastmasters International chapter. I had arrived at the Toastmasters group feeling so overwhelmed by the idea of being vulnerable before a group of strangers, that the first two times I started hyperventilating.
The crowd at this competition was full of avid fencing enthusiasts who, it seemed, had already picked their favorite. I was the underdog, so I was trying to keep all of the emotional noise out of my head. My opponent walked in, and I felt myself breathing a sigh of relief. She was much shorter than I was so I lulled myself into believing this was an advantage.
Once our first round of competition began, it was almost as if the sabre in her hand was a hypnotic pendulum. I kept imagining that I was seeing a camera flash each time she moved the sabre in my direction. Initially, I was longing for a foil competition, which I considered to be much easier for me.
She lunged at me and scored twice at the top of the competition. Both times, I swear I was completely blind just before I was hit. The crowd was there in the background gasping for me. Then suddenly, I couldn't see anything as she lunged at me.
As soon as I regained some of my vision, I caught a glimpse of the sabre in her hand and was able to move out of the way before she hit me. During this round of moves, I landed a skyhook and finally scored myself, but I caught a glimpse of her sword up close before she was able to initiate a remise and score again. The sword had tiny mirrors that were reacting to the lighting in this space.
I have never been a cheater myself, so I have little to no sympathy for people who find ways to cheat in fencing. Although we have extensive gear to manage while we are defending ourselves against attacks, it's deeply more of a mental game. You must be kept at strategizing and recovering from hits. Your plan has to also position you to score more than you get hit. Encountering a cheating opponent made this even harder.
How I Managed to Win
The playing field was not level, and I had a choice about how I would handle it. I could complain, stop the competition and force my opponent to be punished, but in my mind, somehow that still positioned her as the winner. It would mean that she got the best of me and my only recourse was to tattle. But I had so much more fight in me than that.
I figured out a way to make the mirrors her handicap and not mind. First, I started moving faster, aiming closer to the target area. This was not a small feat with the sabre. A foil fencer is much more lightweight and it would've made this easier. Still, I soldiered on. My swift moves seem to confuse her and give me time to keep advancing my attack. It was funny: you could almost see her head moving and questioning how I was managing to prevent her from scoring points.
Later, when they declared me the winner, her face said it all. She was highly upset because her house of mirrors had not kept me from the prize. She was quite curmudgeonly, as well, when it was time to shake my hand in a congratulatory gesture. The crowd had shifted its support and now cheered for me.
I did not tell my foil fencing coach about the cheating until months later. He was a little upset with me for holding something this important back. He said I should've revealed this while the competition was happening. They would have taken the sabre from her immediately.
I told my foil fencing master that I had to win at fencing on my own terms, and the competition was a lot like my own life. Many of my peers, I believe, have been given an advantage over me that makes me feel as if they were cheating. Whenever I want to whine about this, I feel like I've taken my eyes off the real prize: myself. I am the only one who can get in my head and keep me focused on my own outcomes.