Dedication, Determiniation and Drive

On the weekend of February 7th and 8th Zachary I and I loaded up the car and headed to Swift Current, Saskatchewan for another provincial fencing tournament.  Zachary had been sick with a cold for a couple of weeks now and had been tired and run down.  I was worried about how well he would perform when he’s not feeling well because he is his own worst critic and would not accept illness as an “excuse” for what he considers poor performance. He did mange to rest a bit on the drive to Swift Current and as we arrived early on Friday we were able to have a restful evening preparing for the tournament.

IMG_0235Early Saturday morning we got up and went down for breakfast.  As always, Zachary was very choosy about what he ate for breakfast.  He wanted to make sure that what he chose to eat would be healthy and would give him the energy and nutrition that he needed for the morning that he had ahead of him.

After breakfast we left for the venue.  I could see that he was still not feeling very well but he was determined that he was not going to let the cold interfere with his day of competition.

IMG_0238When we got to the location of the tournament we settled in to prepare for the day’s competition, Zachary with his warm ups and myself with a fencing memory quilt that I was trying to finish for him.

Shortly after we arrived one of the girls that Zachary fences on a regular basis arrived with her family.  One look at her and it was obvious that something was bothering her.  Kirsten began her warm up and I could see that she was fighting tears.  I asked her if everything was alright and she told me that she had some pretty heavy duty dental work done the day before and that her mouth was pretty sore, and to top it all off the medication that they gave her for the pain was making her sick to her stomach.  Kirsten was determined that she was going to fence through the pain and that she would not let it stop her from kicking butt on the piste.

IMG_0241I watched Kirsten fight her way through every pool bout fighting tears and nausea the entire time.  She held herself together and was entering the DE’s shaky and hurting badly.  Despite her obvious distress Kirsten continued winning and she and Zachary ended up facing each other in the finals.  And much to my delight (and dismay…come on she was fencing against my kid) she won the finals and took home the gold medal in Cadet Mixed Epee, while Zachary won the silver medal.

I must admit that I was amazed by how hard she fought through the entire competition showing just how strong and determined she was to not allow her pain and discomfort affect her.  She definitely earned her gold medal.

FullSizeRenderThe next day Zachary was entered in Junior Mixed Epee in the morning and Senior Men’s Epee in the afternoon.  Once again I settled in with my sewing and watched as Zachary prepared for his competition.  He was so focused while going through his warm ups I was sure that this was going to be his day.

As I sat watching Zachary in the pool bouts I could tell that something was wrong.  He started favoring one of his legs and he had to work harder and harder at placing any weight on it.

At the end of the pool bouts Zachary came over and told me that an injury that he experienced last year (a stress fracture) had flared up while he was fencing pools.

Fortunately we have a parent in our club who is a  Sports Physio and he taped Zachary’s leg to offer a bit more support (thank you Dale!!).  Zachary got himself an ice pack and iced his leg while he waited for the DE’s to begin.

IMG_0248He fought hard and a couple of times he went down because his leg simply would not support him.  I was worried that he would not be able to finish, but he pulled himself up each time and fought his way into the semi-finals where he once again faced Kirsten (who was feeling much better because she stopped taking the meds that were making her sick).  Unfortunately, as hard as he pushed, his injury prevented him from performing as well as he wanted and he lost to Kirsten leaving him with a third place win.  I was so proud of him for not giving up and I felt his bronze medal was well fought for.

Sadly as a result of his injury Zachary was unable to continue and had to withdraw from the senior competition.  He was very disappointed, but if he had continued it would just have exasperated the stress fracture.

At the end of the weekend I looked back at Kirsten and Zachary’s performance and I could clearly see that even at their young ages they are amazing athletes!  They did not allow illness and injury to deter them from giving everything they had to the competition…they were wonderful examples of dedication, determination and drive!

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A Coach Is Not Just a Coach

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????A coach is a speaker and a motivator.  The season started out for Zachary with a fencing clinic held by the Provincial and Assistant Provincial Coaches.  The Provincial coach, Claude Seguin spoke to the athletes about the accomplishments of past fencers, accomplishments of the high performance athletes competing today, and the possibility of future accomplishments for today’s up and coming fencers.  He spoke with passion and enthusiasm, and painted a fantastic picture of what can be achieved with time, effort and dedication.  He told the athletes that we never use the word “lose” when speaking of competitions, because it is not a loss so much as an opportunity to learn what is needed for the next time.  And like all coaches in Saskatchewan, this session was offered to any and all athletes who chose to join in, no complaints, no discouragement, no charge.

practiceA coach is a teacher.  Lessons are given to the athletes by the coaches in their local clubs.  Not all of the participants in the clubs are at the same skill level, nor do they all have the same drive and ambition to compete on a high performance level.  Some club members just come out to “play” and never intend to compete.  Some only intend to compete on a local level, and some dream to go to the Olympics one day.  The coaches design and adapt the lessons to meet the individual needs of each athlete to help them reach whatever goal they have in mind.  No club member is left out, no matter how humble or lofty their aspirations.

Each coach wholeheartedly and enthusiastically volunteers their time.  These are not paid positions, these are not celebrated positions, these are not high profile positions.  The people who give so freely of their time (for the East Zone Club in Regina, three times a week), do it for the love of the sport and the satisfaction of knowing that they are offering something of value to the athletes who come out each week.

A coach is a travel companion.  When Zachary made the Provincial Team this year and started travelling for his tournaments, I admit that I was a bit of a basket case.  I worried about him navigating airports, finding his hotel, and travelling to and from the venue.  These worries were quickly put to rest however, when it was clear that the coaches were willing to travel with younger athletes to ensure that the trip would go smoothly for them.  This is even more amazing when you realize that these people are using their holidays, and are quite often paying to travel out of their own pockets.

A coach is a chaperone.  When the coaches travel with the younger athletes they take on the role of ensuring that the youth are properly chaperoned.  They assist them to getting to the venue each day, help them keep track of when and where they need to be, make sure they are fed, and during the down times entertained.

LouisvilleA coach is an avenue of support.  The coach will lend a shoulder to lean on when the athlete is stressed, sad or feeling defeated. They will offer cheers, hugs and celebrations when the athlete has made an achievement (no matter how big or small).  And a coach will take the time to sit Piste side to watch and discuss what is good, poor or interesting about the other athletes in the competition. And under the guise of “teaching” they will offer encouragement and motivation for the next practice, bout, or competition.

So, you see, a coach isn’t just a coach, and I for one am extremely grateful for everything they have given my son.

Great Competion, Even Better Friends

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you are wowed by other people’s actions?  I do frequently and love the opportunity to talk about it.

This past weekend our club hosted the Sask Open (Provincial Championships) and I got to meet a fantastic family from B.C.  On the first day Megan introduced herself to me.  Megan is another mom who has both a son and a husband who fence epee, the same weapon as my son Zachary.  We have both had the opportunity to watch each other’s children fence, but we have never been at the same tournament before.  She is a lovely lady and I came to learn over the weekend that her family is wonderful as well.

Megan’s son Fynn is in the same age category as Zachary (cadet) and I looked forward to watching them fence each other.  Little did I know that the two would face off over and over again throughout the weekend.  They had both entered cadet, junior and senior men’s epee, Fynn had also entered Cadet Mixed Foil.

3rdOn Saturday the boys ended up in the same pool for Cadet Epee. Watching them fence was like watching a dance where they traded off points first one scoring a point followed by the other scoring one.  They were so evenly matched that there was no way of knowing who would win the match. When the smoke cleared Zachary ended up winning the D.E’s by one point! The whole time the boys were fencing his Mom, Dad and I sat together and while we each were hoping that our own child would win, we were also cheering on the other’s child.  When the match was finally over, Fynn and his parents were very gracious and genuine in their congratulations to Zachary for his win.  Funnily enough, both boys were  disappointed in their own performances, but respected how well the other fenced.

ZB07The next day started with Junior Men’s Epee.  Both boys had rested up and refocused during the night and were prepared to fence hard and perform their best.  Once again the boys drew the same pool and had to face off against each other.  Not surprisingly they traded points back and forth again, it made for exciting matches for the spectators and nerve racking matches for the parents.

The final outcome for the Junior Men’s Epee was once again going to be anyone’s guess, and in the end Fynn won.  Not only did Fynn defete Zachary, he ended up winning first place!  And while Zachary was disappointed that he didn’t win he was happy for his friend and cheered him on when he received his gold medal.

Whithin moments of completing Junior Epee, Fynn had to prepare for Cadet Foil.  He was tired and was not going to get an opportunity to take a break before foil began.  Fynn showed determination and gave everything he had to the foil competition and placed 3rd by the end of the completion.

ZB 01And poor Fynn, he went straight from the foil piste to the epee piste with no break!  By now his legs were like rubber, his hands were shaking and he was struggling to maintain his energy levels.  And surprise, surprise he and Zachary drew the same pool again! The dance between the two continued and it looked like Zachary was going to get the win, but Fynn dug deep to some unknown reserve and he made an amazing come back.  When the boys were within a couple of points of each other Zach fleched and appeared to score a point against Fynn, and like the true sportsman that most of these fencers are, he pointed out to the presider that he was past Fynn when the point was scored and he had the point removed. Win or lose he did himself proud!  Finally the end of the match came and Fynn was vicorious by one point.  When the match was over Megan made a point of telling me how much integrity Zachary showed by making sure that the point that he hadn’t earned was taken away.

Both boys performed well and they did their parents proud! And Fynn celebrated his 15th birthday by showing what a champion he was.

It was clear to me that by the end of the weekend the boys had developed a fledgling friendship that will continue to grow as they get the opportunity to spend more time together. As for myself, I made new friends this weekend too and I look forward to the opportunity to see them again and build on the friendship that we started.

Why I am the Fencing Mom of Saskatchewan.

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This past weekend my son had a tournament in Saskatoon.  As always, I attended the tournament to cheer, support and/or console him.

Over the years he has given me “rules” to follow when attending the tournaments and I have come to learn that many of the other parents have their own set of “rules” as well.  Some parents are told that if they attend they have to stand behind their fencer so that they can’t be seen…this thankfully is not a rule that I have.

My son doesn’t like it when I cheer…well…he says that’s not true, he doesn’t like it when I cheer for moves that he says aren’t good moves.  But like many parents we aren’t familiar enough to determine what a “good” move is, so anything that results in a point is a “good move”.  I’m also not supposed to discuss how I thought he did or ask him how he thought he did.  This is because I don’t know enough about the technicalities of fencing to have an informed opinion (my words, not his).  So, really it’s only a couple of expectations and I do try to honor his wishes, but come on….I’m his Mom, so of course sometimes I find it impossible to say nothing…lol.

Overall, I find the fact that my son, along with other kids, have set rules for their parents to abide by at a tournament, rather amusing.  Many of us joke with each other when we break the rules and we compare the rules that each of our kids have for us.

On the last day of the tournament I was visiting with another parent and we were talking about the “rules” when one of the older athletes leaned over and said to me…”I wish my parents came out to watch my tournaments”.  He went on to tell me that each of his parents came out to only one of his tournaments and only stayed 10 minutes.  Sadly, this is not the first time that I have heard this type of story from other fencers, many in our own club have said the same thing, one of whom says his parents have never come out.

Over the years I have taken on the role of surrogate Mom to many of these young men and women.  I offer “Mom hugs” when they’re needed, I cheer for them, I celebrate the wins, I offer sympathy for the losses.  I make sure that I have band aids, cough candies, Kleenex and extra cash or snacks.  I fetch water bottles, I offer transportation and sometimes I just offer a quiet shoulder to lean on.  I am a sounding board, and for anyone who needs it, my arms are always open.

Many of the kids have started calling me mom both at the tournaments and away.  At first I thought this was a bit funny and sometimes mildly disturbing (some of them are only ten or so years younger than I am).  But after that off hand comment delivered by a young fencer, I had an epiphany, I am so glad that I can be a substitute mom to these young people.  It’s no longer amusing or disturbing, it’s an amazing feeling to know that I can give them what they need.

And as long as they need it and I am able, I will continue to be Mom.

His First NAC, My First Wait and See Game of the Season!

portland nac  This past weekend my son went to Portland Oregon to participate in his first North American Cup.  He travelled with one of his coaches and a couple of other fencers from his club as well as co-members from Team Sask.  This is the last year of Cadets for Zach and he was hoping to perform well.

Before leaving for the competition he attended a training camp in Saskatoon where he, along with several other fencers, was put through the paces of a hard and vigorous training session.  His coach also invited him to her home where she gave him a private lesson the day before they were to leave for Portland.

I don’t think that he was as prepared as he would like to have been, but he was as ready as he was going to be and was excited for his first major competition.

Many people told him that it was unlikely he would perform well at his first NAC as the venue would probably overwhelm him and it would be hard to concentrate.  I just told him to perform his best, pay attention and learn as much as he could from this experience.  He is very calm by nature and it is hard to rile him up, but once he is…well…we won’t go there as I don’t think he would appreciate it.

So, Thursday morning bright and early I took Zach to the airport and dropped him off.  I joked with him that I wasn’t going to stand there crying while I watched him go through security.  Kirk (the coach travelling with him), laughed and said that Zach was a big boy and he would be o.k.  I laughed along and told Kirk it wouldn’t be for Zach’s sake that I would watch him go!  Being a sentimental possessive mother it was hard to watch him go without me…lol.

Once he was gone I resigned myself to being in the dark until he decided to send me a text message to let me know how he was doing.  I knew this was going to be a long weekend for me playing wait and see.  And then a miracle happened (o.k. a slight exaggeration)…a more seasoned parent than I texted me at work on Friday and asked me if I knew how to check results on line.  When I said no she phoned me and walked me through the process…woo hoo, now I didn’t have to wait to hear from him!

His first competition was Cadet Men’s Epee. As I watched online I saw that he hadn’t won a bout and my heart broke for him.  I knew he would be feeling bad and I doubted I would hear from him.  I texted another athlete to say that I knew he hadn’t won a bout, but how did he fence.  I was told that he improved with each bout.  As  far as I was concerned, this was a success.  And then much to my surprise, Zach texted me to let me know that he finished 133 out of 135.  He felt he fenced o.k., which is better than I thought he would be feeling.

On his second day of completion he fenced in Division II Men’s Epee.  For this completion he won half of his bouts and he moved on to direct eliminations.  He ended up finishing 89th of 135.  A much better day for sure.

Stolen Wallet

The worst thing he could say about the weekend was that he had his wallet stolen on the last day.  Luckily he only had about 40.00 cash in the wallet, but he lost his bank card and his driver’s license.  How frustrating!!

Overall, I think that it was a positive experience for Zach, but I really will have to get better at waiting at home!

First Training Camp of the Season.

Yesterday I got out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and prepared for the day.  I woke my son at 6:00 a.m. and we headed out to the car. We we picked up two more teen fencers and we headed on the road to Salle Seguin in Saskatoon, approximately two and a half hours away.  This was the first Saturday training camp for the provincial and development teams for Saskatchewan Fencing.  As always, the provincial coaches opened their Salle to include any athlete who wished to take part in the full day of training.

Many of the fencers participating will be going to the 2014 October North American Cup in Portland, Oregon and the coaches and athletes knew this would be a great opportunity to prepare for the upcoming competition.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????The day began with Maître Claude Séguin, our provincial coach, gathering the athletes together to go through the training program that he has developed for the members of the provincial and development teams.  Maître Claude Séguin went through each page of the program to explain how it was to be followed and tracked. He offered words of encouragement, inspirational stories and shared a few laughs with the athletes while he went through his training program.

One thing that impressed this mother is that during his presentation to the athletes, most of whom are children and young adults still attending school or university, the provincial coach pointed out the wall of pictures behind him.  These photos were all past Salle Seguin fencers who had achieved great results in their years of fencing. However, Claude did not just point out their athletic successes, he spoke about their academic successes as well.  Claude told a story about another fencing coach who told one of his fencers who was thinking of quitting school that it was important to stay in school and work hard, “because you can’t make a good fencer out of an empty head”.  A sentiment that this mother fully applauds!

Once the meeting was completed the athletes began their training, side by side, both new and experienced fencers working together to follow the lead and direction of the assistant provincial coaches, Maître John Brunning and Maître Lynn Séguin.footwork better  The training was intense and the athletes were worked hard. Rapid fire direction was called out while the athletes circled or crossed the Salle. Cheeks began to get rosy, lungs and muscles were straining and the sweat started soaking through their shirts and dripping down their faces.

Footwork was performed in a synchronized manner, that to an inexperienced onlooker, it may have resembled a dance.  It was quite the sight to see.

Practice bouts took place and the athletes took turns fencing one another.  The more experienced athletes, such as Jean-Luc D’Eon, William Brooke, Shannon Comerford and Leland Guillemin to name a few, offered support, encouragement and advice to those athletes still learning and developing. And as a mother I can’t thank those athletes enough.

I could clearly see that even though this was a training session, everyone was enjoying themselves and having fun…fencers and coaches alike.  Once again the tight-knit family like nature of these Saskatchewan fencers was evident to anyone watching. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????.

Once the training was complete the floor was turned over to Leland, one of the senior athletes who has continually impressed this mother with his willingness to work with, encourage and mentor the “upcoming” athletes in this sport.

Leland led the athletes through a calm stretching session and instructed them about how to properly perform the stretch, as well as what benefits each stretch would bring.  It was a great way to end a day of intense training.

Once the training was officially over, the mad scramble to pack up equipment and shower and change began.  Other parents started to arrive and the athletes started to head for home, some within the city of Saskatoon and others like us to whatever town or city they came from.  Every athlete left looking exhausted but happy.  It was well worth the work they had put in this day…

…Well, at least that’s the perspective of this Fencing Mom of Saskatchewan!

First Tournament of the Season

As I follow my son into the curling rink I note that the lights are low, the air is cool and the room is silent. The hard-working volunteers have been busy the night before laying out the pistes, setting up the score clocks, placing spectator chairs and preparing the venue. I embrace the peace and begin to prepare myself for the noise, the stress and the excitement of the days ahead. This is the first tournament of the season.

Someone finds the lights and turns them on and one by one the fencers begin to enter the room. Most look like they have just climbed out of bed. They roll or carry their bags across the room to where the bag storage is. As they reach the back of the room they drop their bags and greet each other with a smile, a hug, a slap on the back or a handshake. The fencers haven’t seen each other in months and they are just as excited to reconnect with each other as they are to begin the competition.

Once the athletes have stowed their gear they gather their whites and head to the change room to get ready for the day. As they reach the spectator seats they greet the parents and family as they pass, some with a smile and a nod and some with a hug and warm words of greeting. The genuine respect and friendly nature of the athletes is evident to all who sit and wait for the event to begin.

Slowly the fencers begin their warm ups, jogging, stretching, and practicing footwork. They take turns giving each other warm-up bouts, cajole each other into joining in. Joking and visiting the whole while they prepare for the tournament to start.

As the young and new fencers enter, the other fencers coach, support and guide them through the process of warming up, checking in and preparing their equipment. No one is left out or excluded. They seem to be one big extended family, who genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

Check-in and equipment check is called and the apprehension and anticipation begins to build. After the long summer break, practice and training has only just resumed. You can see the nerves bloom and can almost hear the questions running through their heads…Are they prepared? Will they pick up where they left off last season? How much have their competitors and friends developed and changed over the summer?

The pools are set, the officials are assigned and the athletes are called to their piste.

Parents and spectators gather, our own nerves ratcheting high. We have come to like and respect these athletes and we want them all to do well, all the while hoping and cheering for our own children to out perform and win. We offer each other support, tease each other and cheer for each other’s children. And our own tension continues to soar with each bout fought, won or lost.

And finally the competition ends. Some of our children our defeated, some injured and some have been victorious. Each parent without exception celebrates each child’s victory and sympathizes with each child’s loss or pain. There isn’t a single Mom or Dad there that the children can’t turn to for whatever support they need.

And when the tournament is over, the fencers help each other find their belongings and they pack up their bags. Once again hugs, back slaps, handshakes and farewells are given out as the fencers slowly leave the venue one by one. Some are leaving happy, some sad, but all are leaving with their minds focused on what they need to do over the next month to prepare for the next tournament.

This weekend has indeed been a grand adventure for athlete and parents alike.

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