If you visit the website abcnews.com, you’ll find a slideshow of images, a tight edit chosen from among the hundreds shot daily by some of the world’s greatest sports photographers.
The man editing those images this year is Jose R. Lopez, my husband — photo of him above with the entire schedule of every event to help him plan and manage his time.
A frail child, he was never an athlete himself, but, as a staff photographer for The New York Times, photographed two Olympics — Atlanta and Calgary, one summer, one winter. He knows the incredible skill and training it takes to even make the team, whether you’re an athlete competing or someone covering it as a journalist.
Thanks to a helpful colleague already on the ground in Korea, Jose has the complete schedule he needs to plan out his coverage.
Because of the 14 hour time difference between our home, (and ABC’s headquarters), in New York and Korea, it’s going to be a rough few weeks, with sleep a luxury and many weird shifts for him. I admire his tenacity and determination and am now in full-on kitchen duty, making sure there’s plenty of healthy home-made food to sustain him.
I’ve never attended the Olympics, but have two personal connections to them — a film my father made about Japan, and some Olympic badges he brought home with him from Tokyo (1964) and having a New York City coach when I did saber fencing who had competed in two Olympics himself. I couldn’t quite believe I even knew an Olympian, let alone got to work with him to improve my skills.
As a Canadian living in the U.S. I have two countries to cheer for.
Jeff is the man wearing the blue checked shirt and vest.
It happened on a suburban September Saturday afternoon.
Our co-ed softball team, who’ve been playing together for 16 years, was in the middle of a game when Jeff, a 61-year-old teacher, ran to first base — and collapsed.
“Don’t be so dramatic!” scoffed Paul, the first-base coach.
He was having a heart attack, in the middle of a ball field.
Luckily, one of our team-mates, a physician, was there and immediately knew — and knew how — to start chest compressions.
Police came, and EMTs and a paramedic and took Jeff to a local hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma.
He’s fine now.
He’s back to teaching.
He’s back to playing softball.
I wasn’t there that day, but it terrified everyone who witnessed it, helplessly, fearful that our friend would die in front of them.
He could have.
So, wanting to be sure we’re prepared should it ever happen again, 28 of us paid $35 apiece to take a two-hour Saturday morning class last weekend to learn how we, too, might be able to save a life if needed.
It was deeply sobering — you have barely four to six minutes to get someone’s heart pumping again before their brain is damaged.
There’s no time to waste!
You can’t panic.
You can’t want someone else to fix it.
You have to do it, and do it quickly and do it with strength and speed — 120 compressions per minute. You’re mimicking a heartbeat for someone who doesn’t have one.
We each practiced on plastic dummies, both child and adult-sized.
We also learned how to do the Heimlich maneuver, on adults, children, infants and (worst case) even ourselves if we’re ever alone and choking. (Lean hard against a chair back and push down on your diaphragm.)
We also learned how to use and apply the two pads of a defibrillator and how to do so safely.
It was a lot to absorb, physically, intellectually and emotionally.
“No matter what happens, you tried your best,” the instructor cautioned.
Not everyone will survive even the best rescue attempt — unlike a recent local save who needed 25 minutes of CPR to return, literally, from the dead.
After the class, there was a lovely, moving ceremony in the town’s volunteer ambulance garage, with the town mayor and the nine people: EMTs, two police officers and a paramedic whose quick action and excellent skills saved our friend’s life.
Jeff gave a quick, graceful speech and served us a lemon cake at lunch to celebrate his second life.
If you’ve never learned CPR, I’d urge you to consider doing so.
It’s not as complicated as you’d think and there’s nothing worse than feeling helpless in a life-threatening situation.
The United States Capitol. Policies and laws enacted here affect everyone, rarely equally.
There’s an expression I hear a lot in the U.S. — to put your thumb on the scale — i.e. to tilt a result in your favor.
I live near New York City, in a county rife with stunning wealth, (and the not-so-wealthy!) so we have a front-row seat to this constant jockeying for power.
I believe in its opposite — the level playing field.
As some of us watch the Olympics this week, fair competition is front and center.
The Muslim-American fencer Ibithaj Muhammad I just blogged about got to Rio thanks to a playing field, (in this case, piste!), leveled by the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a 15-year-old non-profit in New York City founded by a former bronze medalist who is African-American. The program has worked with 4,000 lower-income children, offering them opportunities to learn this elegant, historic and fantastic sport, and one all too often seen as impossibly elitist.
Then there’s this. From an explainer in The Economist:
A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report into Russian doping by a Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren, was published only on July 18th—18 days before the opening ceremony. Furthermore, the contents of Mr McLaren’s report were appalling. Beginning in 2011 the Russian ministry of sport set up a comprehensive programme to circumvent anti-doping laws. It reported false negatives to WADA, created a steroid cocktail to boost performance (the name it was given, “Duchess”, is worthy of Ian Fleming), worked with the FSB, the state security service, to evade independent testing, and tampered with drugs tests while hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The world is, for many of us, a highly competitive place. The more ambitious you are — socially, financially, professionally — the greasier the pole.
Harvard, already hell to get into, also has private on-campus clubs so exclusive that people weep on their doorsteps when refused admission.
Because what’s the point of privilege — unless you guard it ferociously?
The Fly is one of six remaining all-male final clubs. They are, if not the hub, the apex of social life at Harvard — upscale surrogates for those classic centers of college merriment, sororities and fraternities…
Entree can feel like belonging, rejection like a scarlet F…
But to many students on the outside, the clubs are laden with a legacy of upper-crust snobbishness. As the writer Kenneth Auchincloss referred to them in a 1958 dispatch in The Harvard Crimson: Final clubs are gathering places of the “St. Grottlesex crop,” an amalgamation of the names of several elite East Coast boarding schools, who “look to the Clubs as centers for privacy and ‘good-fellowship,’ cut off from the hectic University by their locked front doors, their aura of secrecy, and a generally shared feeling of superiority.”
…The elaborate courtship of the desirable can begin with an engraved invitation slipped under a dorm room door to “punch” — a selection process that continues with a series of outings and culminates in a black-tie dinner feting the few who make it through.
My husband Jose works part-time as a photo editor at abcnews.com, owned by Disney; this week they handed out brand-new backpacks, asking employees to fill them with donated school supplies.
We don’t have kids, so the whole back-to-school routine is something we don’t do. We had a blast running around Staples, and discovered that it cost $50 to buy everything on the list.
That’s still a significant sum in our family — and an impossibly high one for a family with a lower income and/or multiple children to shop for.
We hope the recipient enjoys it!
Here’s a sobering piece from The Atlantic:
In dealing with the persistence of intergenerational wealth, the changes that would be most effective are also the most sweeping: Taking private money out of political campaigns would give more of a voice to people who’d benefit from stronger social policies. Bolstering housing-voucher programs would let poorer families move into better neighborhoods. Increasing taxes at the uppermost end of the income spectrum would redistribute perpetuated wealth. Finding ways to get lower- and middle-income workers to put more money into savings would help them improve their lots.
So, the lesson from this report: Take whatever extreme, politically unfeasible changes everyone thought were necessary to increase economic mobility and make them more extreme and more unfeasible—that might be enough.
For refugees, fleeing Syria, it’s a hunger for basic dignity, as Mohammed Ali, 26, told Cnet:
“I just want beginning,” he says. “I just want to be at level zero, because here we are before level zero…I feel nothing change. Like, I was in Syria a number and here I am still a number. I have to be a person.”
For those less familiar with fencing, there are three weapons: foil, epee and saber, each with a different style, in which different body parts are target and, as a result, tend to attract different personalities. Saber is for the hard-core!
In saber, the entire body above the hips, including the head, is fair game, based on the amount of body surface most available when fighting on horseback. Aggression is rewarded.
However unlikely — but true! — her presence in Rio this month is in part due to the first American women to fence saber in national competition, back in the 1990s, back when (yes, really) the governing body for fencing (old European men of course) said, “Noooooo, women can’t fence saber in the Olympics. Too dangerous!”
I was one of them.
Thanks to us breaking ground by fencing at nationals, U.S. women saber fencers have since gone on to win multiple Olympic medals. So damn cool!
When I arrived in New York, with no job, no family, no friends, I needed a place to go to connect with my new home. I’d long wanted to try fencing, as it combined many of my favorite things: French (many terms are French), a long and distinguished history, lots of terrific NYC competition, intellectual and physical challenge.
They say fencing is chess at the speed of boxing. It’s a fantastic sport, and I was lucky enough to find classes at New York University and a two-time Olympian coach, Steve Mormando.
He introduced a small group of women to saber and we soon began training twice a week (two hours each time), taking individual lessons and competing regularly at the local and regional level.
I loved it.
I went to nationals four times, each time getting eliminated just before making the final eight.
I’m thinking of taking it up again. I miss it.
I hope some of you will make time to check out the fencing and keep an eye on Ibithaj — Monday August 8 at 8:00 a.m EDT.
Trophies were once rare things — sterling silver loving cups bought from jewelry stores for truly special occasions. But in the 1960s, they began to be mass-produced, marketed in catalogs to teachers and coaches,
and sold in sporting-goods stores.
Today, participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, as children are constantly assured that they are winners. One Maryland summer program gives awards every day — and the “day” is one hour long. In
Southern California, a regional branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization hands out roughly 3,500 awards each season — each player gets one, while around a third get two. Nationally, A.Y.S.O. local
branches typically spend as much as 12 percent of their yearly budgets
It adds up: trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada. Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.
The story had attracted 282 comments within a few hours of its publication…here’s part of one, from a male reader in New York City:
We want fame. We want adoration. We never want to break the from adolescence, no, from infancy, when we were center of the universe and a whimper could get our diaper changed.
And this admission, from a young woman in Chicago:
I’m 24 and a college graduate, and my peers and I were constantly praised from kindergarten through college. Like in the article, we all got trophies and certificates of achievement in grade and middle school, high grades in high school (partially so we could get into good colleges) and good grades for just showing up to class in college.
Competitive skills are not inherently developed; they are learned. What we have now is a group of young people coming out of college and high school who are just discovering that it takes more than showing up to succeed in life, and it is in no small part due to the “everybody is special” culture that we were steeped in as adolescents.
I think there’s a fine line between wanting non-stop attention and false adulation — “Great job!” I hear parents coo when some small child does…anything…these days — and genuine encouragement to persist in the face of disappointment and rejection.
We all went back to our busy lives and personal challenges, and we’re all still here, all still in the game. We didn’t curl up in the fetal position, sucking our thumbs and whining to one another about it.
Ever. At all. You lose, pick yourself up and get on with it.
I applied last year again, as one of 278 applicants, and became one of 14 finalists.
I lost again.
I’d planned to re-apply this year but I decided to take a break. Will I apply yet again? Probably.
Losing is dis-spiriting, indeed, but I think “winning” every time you compete for something is crazy.
Life is too difficult!
You’ll never win every date/job/fellowship/grant/award/book contract/raise/promotion you want. No one does. (And if you do, I wonder how far you’re stretching and growing…)
But in a culture that usually only cheers and celebrates heroes and the wealthy, those whose visible proof of success wins them lots of attention and praise and high-fives, (all pleasant, certainly), it’s a challenge to remember — and to teach children — that failure is normal, to be expected and builds tenacity and resilience.
And those are the true building blocks of solid, lasting self-confidence.
I don’t normally look to the sober-sided Financial Times for career advice, especially on the value of sport(s) for women who aim high professionally. But here’s Gillian Tett:
In recent months Ernst & Young, the American consultancy, has been analysing sporting activity among senior female executives and leaders. And it has discovered that the higher the executive level, the more
likely it is that a woman played sport at high school or college. Most notably, some 19 out of 20 women who sit in the “C-suite” – holding the title “chief something” – were sporty as a teenager; indeed, seven out of 10 still play sport as a working adult, while six out of 10 played sport at university. One in eight C-suite executives played sport professionally. However, among the middle levels of working women, athletic skill was lower: just a third of mid-level women, for example, played sport at university..
A few examples:
IMF head Christine Lagarde (a former member of France’s synchronised swimming team), Condoleezza Rice (a keen figure skater in her youth) and Hillary Clinton (school baseball). Or Dilma Rousseff (the Brazilian president, who played volleyball to a high level), Indra Nooyi (the CEO of PepsiCo was a keen cricket player), Ellen Kullman (CEO at Dupont, who played basketball to a high level at college)…
Girls who play sport at school learn at a young age that it is acceptable to compete aggressively. They also discover that success does not depend on looking good and that it can be acceptable to take pleasure in winning. ..Being an athlete is one of the few socially accepted ways for teenage girls to compete, without peer criticism.
I’m such a huge fan of girls and women being athletic!
I’ve been sporty since childhood — when I had no choice in the matter, because we did sports after school every day at boarding school and all day long at summer camp.
Some of the sports I’ve played, and some I continue to play:
softball, hiking, cycling, downhill and cross-country skiing, kayaking, canoeing, ice skating, fencing, golf, tennis, squash, badminton, volleyball, basketball, swimming (competitive), diving, snorkel, horseback riding, sailing, solo and in a racing team (12 f00t to 60 foot boats).
I also studied ballet from the age of 12 to my late 20s, jazz dance in my 20s, and I still do a jazz dance class every Monday morning.
I include yoga and any form of dance in the same category of “sports” — requiring discipline, flexibility, training, practice, strength and determination to master them.
For all the endless paranoia/obsession about the size and shape of our bodies, what we really need is to be strong and limber, at 5, 15, 45 or 65.
If it weren’t for my athletic activities, I wouldn’t be able to control my weight, manage my stress, tap into my creativity or relate nearly as easily to the many men and women I meet who are sporty. I can always find someone to go for a hike with or play golf with my husband or take a jazz, modern or ballet class. For many years, I crewed every summer on more than a dozen racing sailboats on Long Island Sound, often trimming jib, a job requiring lightning reflexes and strong arms, shoulders and hands.
I moved to New York when I was 30, knowing no one, with no formal American education, no friends, relatives or a job. To stay busy while re-making my life, I took up saber fencing, coached by a two-time Olympian, and was nationally ranked for four years.
I learned a tremendous amount in the salle and on that narrow strip, all of which has helped me in life, work and relationships:
How to control my temper (at least during a bout!)
How to stay focused for 20 minutes, crouched in en garde, on a minute object to the exclusion of all distractions
How to compete with confidence against opponents far bigger, stronger, taller and more experienced
How to lose (and not freak out)
How to win (and not gloat)
How to buy a bit of time, even at nationals in the direct elimination round (tie your shoe)
How to control an opponent
How to stay focused and compete effectively even when injured and in pain
How to accept criticism and feedback from my coach
How to initiate an attack quickly and decisively
There is no doubt that my strength, stamina and flexibility still help me stay fit and strong in a crazy business in a difficult economy.
On the crummiest day I know I can still shoot hoops or swing a driver with the young ‘uns. I can hit to the outfield and pop a golf ball 150 yards.
Do you play sports? Do your daughters?
How do you think it has affected them or changed their lives?
Ruthless, remorseless, relentless emotional manipulation. Armstrong was the perp, Te’o a victim.
The sad truth is this: Liars at the level of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o’s “girlfriend” — a catfisher extraordinaire — have as much resemblance to the rest of us as ice to fire. (To those of you not in the U.S., the Te’o saga is the big news story right now, a star Notre Dame college football player who had a two-year relationship by phone and email with a woman who said she had cancer and died.)
She never existed.
To the normal person, i.e. not a sociopath, who by definition is incapable of empathy (hmmm, how might have it felt to the journalists Armstrong sued, knowing they were right? Hey, who cares?), a lie is usually fairly minor:
That dress looks great! I love my new job! The kids? They’re terrific!
Sociopaths are a whole other breed. They see the rest of the world as prey, they the predators. Trying to get them to explain their behavior in rational terms — as Oprah Winfrey did in her interview — is like trying to get your dog to sing opera. No matter how much you wish it could happen, it won’t.
They just can’t do it. They don’t operate from the same essential principles as the rest of us.
High-level liars count on our goodwill, our good nature, our trust, our wish to believe that what people tell us is actually true.
I know this because in 1998 I became the victim of a con man, a convicted felon who left Chicago, where his exploits made front page news (working in tandem with his mother) and moved to New York in search of fresh and unsuspecting victims. I became one when, in December 1997, I answered a personal ad in a local paper.
You can’t make this bit up: “Honesty and integrity paramount” he wrote. He pretended to be a successful lawyer — in Chicago, he was a “doctor” with a “business card”, one so amateur the most junior health reporter would have known was fake.
We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. If we can’t move through the world with some balance of open-heartedness to cynicism, we’re toast.
I don’t want to rehash all the details here of what happened to me. I figured he was a liar very early on, but — lonely, broke, isolated, my self-confidence at an all-time low — I was roadkill. Easy pickings! I stayed because his behavior appeared, initially, kind and attentive: he brought me a pot of home-made soup to my door, for heaven’s sake. He was funny, smart, well-dressed, physically attractive.
It got much darker and then he opened my mail and stole a credit card and used my phone to activate it and forged my signature — there’s four felonies right there. The cops laughed and the DA did nothing.
But he fooled a lot of people, including my friend with the Columbia Phd in psychology and her multiply-published author boyfriend. I kept waiting for someone else to second my fears.
Only my mother, raised in NY, did. But by then it was too late.
When I moved to New York in June 1989, I arrived just in time for the worst, (of two since!), recession in my industry, journalism. I knew not a soul, had no job and had not attended university in the U.S., which, I belatedly realized, makes a huge difference in getting ahead here.
I wanted a fresh, fun challenge unrelated to work, and decided to take up fencing, through night classes offered at New York University. They’d supply the equipment. I just needed to bring energy, commitment and a pair of sneakers.
I’d taken ballet for years, and loved its grace, French terminology and history. But I wanted something ferocious and competitive, not endless plies and tendues going nowhere. Classes were taught by the NYU coach, Steve Mormando, a former Navy guy and two-time Olympian.
It was deeply, quickly humbling, as new muscles announced themselves with aches and pains. I was too slow and clumsy for foil and didn’t like epee. So Steve decided to make a small group of 30-something women into saber fencers, an unheard-of ambition in the early 1990s, when women had yet to compete nationally in that weapon.
I and my team-mates would make history by doing so.
The lessons I learned in the salle have stayed with me, helping me in work and private life. (NB: An epee, foil or saber is actually called a weapon, not a sword. But using the word “weapon” in my headline seemed unwise!)
Here is some of what fencing taught me:
Fencing bouts have only five touches. I was once down 4-0 and once would have simply thought “Fuck it” but Steve taught us that every point is a new bout. I won that bout, which changed how I see life’s possibilities. If I assume I’m defeated, I will be.
In sabre, the weapon’s style is based on cavalry fighting, with only the body above the hips as target, including the head. Getting hit on the head is always a bit of a shock, even wearing a metal helmet, and I always came home with bruises on my arms and legs. No biggie. If you’re scared to get into the game, how can you compete effectively?
Fencing has been called “chess at the speed of boxing.” Like chess, the sport is very much a mental one, a matching of wits and temperament and the ability to look multiple moves ahead in order to win. This skill is essential to any sort of professional success.
The only way to win in fencing is to observe each opponent carefully, before and during the bout, in order to pinpoint and penetrate their weaknesses. Everyone has one, and likely several; I once had to fence a much larger man but used my smaller size and greater speed to my advantage.
Fencing often hurts and, like many athletes competing in a sport they take seriously, pain becomes a mere distraction. The end goal is to stay focused and win.
Of all the lessons fencing taught me, this was by far the most valuable. I learned to stand back, to wait for an opening, to pull distance, to not react. Becoming emotional — often a default female choice — is self-indulgent and useless, as anger and frustration simply impede the ability to fight (and win) with a clear head.
It was my life. I think the training and the discipline, the loneliness — you have to develop a core of strength — helped me in my career. And I danced at the American School of Ballet. That is is intense, intense shit. You know, feet bleeding, Black Swan.
But they convey a mindset toward learning. The martial arts are centered in lifelong learning whether you practice consistently or not. The principles that are taught behind the study of the art is what stays with you.
It differs, as you’d expect, country by country; the top choice, in India, Singapore, Indonesia and Brazil was engineer, while Germans and Hong Kong residents chose scientist.
Canadians and Americans said being a teacher was theirs.
I’m surprised, certainly in the U.S., because public education has recently become such a battleground, over texts, tests, salaries, tenure. The pay is generally low and some parents’ expectations savagely and unrealistically high, if the parents are even involved at all.
The top choices also differed hugely between American men and women.
In order, men chose: professional or Olympic athlete, plane or helicopter pilot, scientist, lawyer or astronaut.
Women chose: teacher, veterinarian, writer/journalist, nurse/doctor/EMT, singer.
I’m not sure what to make of this, except to suggest that guys are hopeless fantasists and girls seem to have some really serious STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) aversion.
Let’s parse these a bit:
Guys, clearly, want: power (physical, mechanical, financial), fame/groupies, a view from high above the earth, literal or metaphorical. Each of their choices relies on individual strength and skill, even when used within a team environment. Each allows them to be a hero, to save lives and/or make history.
Girls, it seems, want: emotional connection, intellectual growth, to help and nurture others. Their choices suggest they want to relate to children or animals or other people in a helping manner — or just be famous, dammit!
The question that most intrigues me is…why? Do men and women want such utterly different lives, incomes and trajectories of influence because of their parents? What they read? See on television? Their friends and neighbors?
I wanted to be a writer since I was very small, partly because my mother was a journalist for magazines and it looked like a hell of a lot of paid fun. (It is, at its best.)
I also wanted to be, for a while, a radio DJ, an actress, a photographer and a foreign correspondent. I did a lot of acting in productions at summer camp and was good at it, but knew the odds of professional success were slim. I started out as a photographer by selling three magazine cover images when I was still in high school and did news photography for a while, but male editors and art directors refused to give me work, arguing that men with families (!) needed it more than I.
So I stuck with journalism/publishing which, in many ways, has been my dream job. It suits me emotionally, intellectually, politically and spiritually — I know, for a fact (thanks to some powerful emails over the years) — that my work has touched people. One woman said a medical story of mine had even saved her life. For me, no paycheck is large enough to compensate for work that fails to connect people to one another. I learn something new almost every single day. I know that providing accurate, timely and useful information is essential to democracy and any form of social justice, and I get to be a part of that.
The money is shitty, but occasionally better. I like working with a tremendous amount of physical and intellectual freedom and autonomy. I loathe routine. I like meeting people from every walk of life, as I have, from Prime Ministers and Queen Elizabeth and Olympic athletes to convicted felons and victims of violence.
I love being paid to have an idea and explore it in depth, sharing the result with millions of readers. It’s a huge thrill knowing that my two books are in libraries all over the world.
And I love being part of an international tribe, men and women of all ages who still get up in the morning dying to get to the next story, whether they’ll tell it through words or images or sounds, or perhaps all three. When a journalist is killed covering a story, we all feel a little ill, because it could have been us or our husband or someone we’ve worked with — or have. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career, which began when I was still an undergrad at University of Toronto, to find editors willing to entrust me with their pages, budgets and assignments. They’ve sent me to a tiny Arctic village, to a Club Med in Mexico (!), to dance at Lincoln Center in New York, to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, to Edmonton and Winnipeg and Copenhagen.
It’s not been a picnic! Some bosses have been toxic brutes, male and female bullies whose behavior rendered me physically sick with stress. One editor’s criticism of my writing actually left me in tears, (I was very young), but also forever changed my writing for the better.
Here’s a beautiful blog post by friend and fellow writer Cynthia Ramnarace — whose New York home was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy — about the extraordinary kindness her former newsroom colleagues recently showed her, eight years after she moved away. I doubt you’d ever get this in a cut-throat big-city newsroom, but there is a deeply shared set of values most journalists have in common, which I really appreciate still, after 30 years in the biz.
My alternate dream jobs? Choreographer, owner of a small housewares store, interior designer, jet pilot, conference organizer, consultant and public speaker. I think a few of them are still possible!
When I moved to New York, and was eager for a new athletic challenge, I trained with a two-time Olympian, saber fencer Steve Mormando, and was nationally ranked in the mid 1990s in that sport for four years.
Competing in sports, especially when you’re aiming for the top, teaches many powerful lessons, some of them of special value to women, in whom unshakable confidence and physical aggression can be seen as ugly, “unfeminine” or worse.
Some of the lessons saber fencing competition taught me:
— Saber (one of three weapons used in the sport), requires aggression and a sort of boldness that’s totally unfamiliar to many girls and women in real life. If you hesitate or pause, you can easily lose to the opponent prepared to start the attack. Go!
— In saber, you “pull distance” and create space between you and your opponent by withdrawing backwards down the strip and extending your blade. This buys you time, and safe space, in which to make a smarter or more strategic move. I’ve often slowed down in life when it looked like I should speed up or jump in quick. Fencing taught me the value of doing the opposite.
— Anger is wasted energy. I hate losing! But stressing out when I did lose, which is inevitable in sports, as in life, only messed with my focus and concentration. Move on.
— Pain will happen. Keep going. I was once hit, hard, early in a day-long regional competition and my elbow really hurt. But I had many more opponents to face and didn’t want to just drop out. Life often throws us sudden and unexpected pain — financial, emotional, physical. Having the ability to power through it will separate you from the weaker pack.
When I fenced at nationals, the first group of American women to do so, there was no option to compete in saber at the Olympic level, let alone world competition. It was frustrating indeed to work and train so hard, traveling often and far, competing regionally and locally, but never have the chance to go for the ultimate challenge, trying for an Olympic team position.
The sport was dominated by European men, and its organizing body, The Federation International d’Escrime, decreed that saber was (of course) too dangerous for women.
Now the U.S. has Zagunis, a young woman of 27, who dominates the sport.
As we watch and cheer and cry and shout over the next few weeks, remember all the women along the way, their efforts often initially dismissed or derided, whose hard work and tenacity break down these barriers.