The long road ahead: Waterloo’s fencing team begins their journey

Fencers duelling

Two years ago the Student Success Office met Marc Lo, a student taking a stab at the competition alone. Now as he reaches the final stretch of his Waterloo career, Marc stands alongside a talented team of fencers representing the University of Waterloo in the Ontario Universities Athletics (OUA) Men’s Fencing Competition for first time since its founding. By competing at the together, they hope to establish a presence for fencing here at Waterloo and eventually be recognized as a varsity sport.

Upon first arriving at the University, fellow team members Ryan Brennan, Caleb Tseng-Tham, and Gareth Marks were surprised at the absence of a fencing team. Ryan, who is now in 2A in Accounting and Financial Management, didn’t let that stop him; with each step he took towards fencing, he was met with surprisingly good fortune.

“Every step of [my] plan went even better than I expected.  My first step was to start working with the already existing UW Fencing Club. I then became the president of the club.”

After becoming president, Ryan went to work assembling a team for the OUA, and met Caleb, a 1B student in Mechatronics Engineering, Gareth, a nationally ranked fencer in 1B Mathematical Physics, and of course, Marc Lo. While Marc had spent most of his undergraduate years as one of the only fencers who was extensively trained and competitively interested, this year he is not alone.

A group photo of the fencing team. From left to right, Ryan, Caleb, Marc, and Gareth

From left to right, Ryan, Caleb, Marc, and Gareth.

Ryan admits he had difficulties with his role, “It was really time consuming trying to be a coach, captain, and president all at once, but this was mitigated by the amazing support I got from my teammates and execs.”

His efforts did not go unnoticed. “I was fortunate to find Ryan and the fencing team in my first year,” Gareth says of his team, “we were lucky to have enough established fencers this season to form a strong team, and Ryan’s done a great job of putting everything together.”

Fencing itself is a solo sport, where players compete in 1v1 matches and score points by touching certain locations on their opponent’s body with their foil, while the opponent strategically defends.

“Overall, team fencing is essentially multiple solo games sharing the same score pool,” Caleb explains. “However, as individual as fencing is, I’ve found that this team is much closer in many ways than other team sports that I’ve been part of in the past. Everyone is very encouraging of one another, always ready to give advice, and to criticize when needed.”

The others share his sentiments.

“The encouragement and support from cheering teammates definitely provides a boost of strength and confidence,” Marc agrees.

“And having three other fencers watch you at all times ensures you’re going to get some good advice,” Gareth adds.

This past month, the team was put to the test in Kingston, competing in the OUA Men’s Fencing Competition. The experience was filled with new and old faces. For Caleb, it was especially significant.

“I first got into fencing in high school; I was always intrigued by the sport but was finally brought in by a long time elementary school friend who eventually became my fencing coach.

One of the moments which I would probably never forget, was when I went on the piste and was up against my old fencing coach. It was unfortunate that I was unable to score any points, considering he has taught me all that I know. But there was a sense of nostalgic familiarity to that match which I have not felt in a long time.”

Overall our Waterloo team was able to pull off strong performances in the individual events, with Gareth earning second against Ryerson’s Mateusz Kozak. In the team event, they made a 20-point comeback against Western that secured their place in the semi-finals.

“It was a great team-building moment,” says Gareth “and went to show that, especially in the team event, nothing is insurmountable when you’re in the right headspace."

And their fate after the semi-final? “We barely lost out on the bronze to Ryerson 45-42.” Marc says.

Winners standing on the podium, Gareth standing in second

The group was honoured to represent Waterloo at this event. Moving forward, their hopes for fencing at Waterloo are high.

“The past year has completely blown past my expectations, and I can’t thank everyone who helped make it happen enough.” As president, Ryan takes pride in his team, “we went from four fencers who happened to be crossing paths this year to a team.”

Caleb, in his 1B, has plenty of time to continue his growth and says, “I’m looking forward to the next few years I have here, and there’s definitely a lot of pressure to make every following year better than the last!"

To the future varsity fencing team, they leave these messages:

I hope that the future varsity team continues with the strong sense of mutual support and team-building that we’re starting to establish. I’d like to tell the future team to build physical strength in training, mental strength in competition, and team strength everywhere else.” - Gareth

I look forward to seeing Waterloo becoming a superpower in the fencing scene. What I would like to say to the future team is never give up, train like you’re not going to be able walk anymore tomorrow!” - Marc

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