To mark World Fencing Day on 12th September, Christine Coffey caught up with UCD Fencing Club Captain James Barden to talk about the club’s phenomenal fundraising efforts, training during lockdown and what to look forward to for the upcoming season
“As our club is unfortunately aware, heart problems aren’t just for the old and unfit”
The fundraising efforts of the UCD Fencing community during lockdown far exceeded that of a conventional 5k challenge on Instagram. The club, which is by no means the biggest in UCD in terms of numbers, embarked on the ambitious goal of running the equivalent of 10 marathons (around 420km) during the month of July to raise money for the Irish Heart Foundation(IHF). Like most charitable organisations, IHF saw an imperative shift in their means of securing donations away from in-person efforts and had to rely on the initiative shown by people at home. “Alumni, beginners, novices, and seniors all took part” and raised €1008 for IHF after running a combined 741.63km, surpassing their 420km target by some distance. Allstar Fencing, (a fencing equipment supplier), provided support for the group during their efforts and all were very grateful for the generosity shown by donors.
Selecting the IHF seemed natural and not at all incidental for the club, given their connection to the organisation through former UCD fencer Darius Vassehi;
Many of our now alumni were Darius' friends and teammates and were therefore grateful to honour him and his passion for fencing by raising money to help the IHF
“Darius was a fencer of some renown in his time and even represented Ireland. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 18 due to heart problems. Darius’ passing affected the entire fencing community, not just the UCDFC. Many of our now alumni were Darius' friends and teammates and were therefore grateful to honour him and his passion for fencing by raising money to help the IHF…We presented the money raised to Mary Vasseghi (Darius’ mother) and Anne O’Riordan (IHF representative) last Saturday”.
The sense of community is apparent when talking with members of the fencing club, something which extends beyond graduation. Events such as this serve only to strengthen the connection between members past and present. Some of the club’s alumni have gone on to have major success on the national and international stage. “Two alumni of UCD fencing fenced at the European qualifier for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics…what’s even more inspiring is both of these athletes began their fencing career in UCD. In 2018 we had two athletes compete at the international Gay Games, the only Irish fencing representatives, who came 5th and 7th in their weapons respectively”. Previous members “often come back to help coach…we also work with the AUC to try and get fencers coaching qualifications should they want it.” There’s something humble and cohesive about the combination of the high-performance aspect of the club and the space set aside for passing on skills and training the next crop of UCD fencers. “While our successes inspire our current fencers, we focus forward to the future and what our current fencers can and will achieve.”
Understandably, there won’t be throngs of freshers packed into Hall B trying out sabres on future classmates and enjoying the novelty of donning a fencing uniform for the first time. However, the UCD Fencing Club hopes a strong social media presence will offset the inevitable drop in new recruits and “lead them to discover this amazing sport”. “We accept anyone, whether they’re pentathletes, fencers or beginners. We train in all 3 weapons so there is absolutely something for everyone…we provide everything needed for beginners to become fencers without breaking the bank: Blades, gear and halls.” This includes the opportunity to rise through the ranks and represent the college at beginner and novice events all the way up to competing at varsities. “Last year, beginners and novices returned (from the Schull competition in Cork) with 4 bronze and 2 silver medals”. Separate trainings for seniors and beginners, as well as mixed trainings on Fridays allows a balance of trainings catered for specific experience levels and ensures new faces start to blend with the usual crowd. The triumphant women’s épée team from last season’s varsities seemed to epitomise this aspect of the club, with final year and Ad Astra scholar Aisha Mullen, 4th year Martha Crowe and 1st year Oliwia Bik all playing their part in the win.
As well as the women’s épée title, the club were “contenders for every other weapon” at varsities and finished second overall in one of the biggest events of the year. UCD found themselves at the top of the club medal table, having won more gold medals than any other club. Noah Scott and Victor (Haocheng Sun) secured gold in Men’s épée at the North of Ireland and East of Ireland Opens respectively. Phoebe Ireland received the same medal for her success in women’s sabre in the North of Ireland Open and Aisha Mullen added to the tally of golds in épée at the West of Ireland Open. The novices also enjoyed success in Schull and Maynooth novice, with Elie Watson and clubmate Tlamelo Malima both reaching the women’s sabre final and David Dunphy winning silver in all three weapons in Maynooth. These are but a few of the features in the long list of highlights for the club during the 2019/2020 academic year.
We have been working to still welcome beginners in the best conditions, by offering thoroughly disinfected gear on demand at each training.
Club Captain James Barden hopes to build on the success of last season and surpass those great achievements, and training during lockdown was a step in the direction of this long-awaited return to action. The fencers kept track of their running with the Strava app, posting workouts to support and challenging each other. “We also organised online classes, based on technique and conditioning which members really enjoyed, but it was no substitute for the adrenaline rush of being on piste (fencing area)”. The committee is working very hard to “return to practice soon, in a safe and Covid-conscious environment”, pointing to sign-up sheets, increases in the frequency of disinfecting equipment and social distancing as necessary changes. “We have been working to still welcome beginners in the best conditions, by offering thoroughly disinfected gear on demand at each training”. With regards to competition, the size of pistes may limit the number of fencers in each competition, but the club is looking to overcome this by hosting two competitions to give “all our fencers a chance to compete in the highest standard competitions on the National circuit.”
While previous FIE World Fencing Days have involved fun events such as a fencing flash mob, (which was held in Trinity College, Dublin), this year’s celebrations will be less of a congregation and social media will have to play host for these celebrations. The 2020 theme, “Fencing, a Passion, a Family”, ties in nicely with Fencing Ireland’s challenge to show family or friends how to fence. The message from the UCD club is “although it is unfortunate (that) we can’t come together in person to celebrate, we hope everyone can engage in teaching and discovering the sport, and most importantly have fun”.