The bout was tied, 9-9. Next touch wins. This wasn’t an ordinary fencing competition.
It was an international event in Minneapolis, Minn. It was for the North American Cup (NAC) championship in the Vet 40 division. The winner wins the Cup, and also, the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
Prospect’s Sandra Marchant got that final touch. The 43-year-old mother of two won the gold medal and maintained her No. 1 ranking as the nation’s top female fencer age 40 and over.
Marchant won two gold medals in individual competitions and was part of a bronze medal-winning team effort from the combination of Candlewood Fencing Center in Danbury and the Prospect Fencing Club.
That’s right, Prospect is home to one of the best women’s fencers in America.
“I am shocked I won,” Marchant said. “I did not think I could do this.”
Marchant has been building towards this first victory, but she honestly thought it was one year away.
“I am nursing an injury,” she said. “I pulled a tendon in my right arm, in the elbow. The tendon actually pulled off the bone.”
That meant that Marchant could not fully extend her right arm, and in fencing, if you can’t lunge and thrust, that’s a problem.
“I had to cut all my grips,” she said. “With the new grip I had to try a new way to hold on to my weapon. So I thought this would be a building year.”
But Marchant compensated for that lack of reach.
“I focused harder,” she said, “but I also thought, ‘You know what, just try to have fun.’ As much as you always want to win, I went in just to do the best I could under the circumstances.”
The first shocker came in Marchant’s first competition of the weekend, April 12, in the women’s Vet 40 epee final as she won the gold in a victory over Ann Totemeier of Boulder, Colo. The collapse-to-the-floor-sobbing win happened on April 14, in the women’s Vet Open against Maria Copelan of Oregon.
Marchant trailed Copelan, 9-7. First fencer with 10 touches wins. Marchant needed clean touches, which are scored electronically when an electrified foil makes contact with an opponent’s protective clothing. If fencers record touches within 1/25th of a second, both receive credit for a touch.
“I had to get single light touches without her hitting me,” Marchant said. “I had nothing to lose, so I decided to go for broke.”
Marchant registered two touches to even the bout. It came down to that last touch.
“I give her a salute, and she gives me a salute,” Marchant said.
Meanwhile, Marchant’s entourage of teammates from the fencing clubs is doing the wave. “They are hooting and hollering, and I am shaking.”
Copelan and Marchant received the command to fence, and Marchant went for an opening that she saw throughout the bout.
“I make a move, then beat her blade when she came in on me. I was ready and made a parry four,” which is a defensive move to deflect an opponent’s blade. “I repost, and moved forward and hit her with one light touch.”
Over. Marchant wins the Cup, 10-9.
“I had no control,” she said. “I broke down. I collapse on the floor, sobbing and crying. They had to pick me up off the stage. It was something I never thought would happen, and also, might never happen again.”
But it did happen this time.
“I buckled down and took her apart.”
Marchant is now one of only three female vet division fencers to carry an “A” designation, and the only one on the east coast. Marchant said this designation can help build fencing in the east. If Marchant is beaten in a regional competition, that helps other fencers achieve an “A” ranking.
There was also a bronze-medal win at NAC when Marchant teamed with Candlewood teammates Sally Simon of Fishkill, N.Y., Natalia Stavisky of Brookline, Mass., and Bonnie Aher of Brookfield, Conn. The team was not ranked, and as Marchant said, “We did not have a shot in heck, but we fenced like crazy.”
The team was called the coyotes. They fenced wearing coyote tails, and let loose a coyote howl with every touch.
It was that kind of weekend in Minneapolis.
Being No. 1 brings added pressure. Marchant is still seven years away from fencing with the U.S. national team in international events. The program is only for fencers age 50 and over. That’s a long time to maintain a top ranking, especially for a mom with a full-time job.
Also, Marchant is now the hunted one.
“I know there is a big target on my back,” Marchant said, looking ahead to the national championships in Columbus, Ohio this June.
“The competitors stood in line and offered congratulations. Maria Copelan said, ‘We’re coming for you now. I am getting nothing but Sandra lessons until June.’”
Marchant is ready.
“Now, I need to train harder.”