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Fencing at the Bellaire Rec Center

A word from the other guy…

Hi all, I’m Dan Gorman, one of the founders of Houston Sword Sports.

Like Coach Liz, I started fencing in college. For me, it was Purdue University in the fall of 1990. I quickly fell in love with the sport and was traveling with the club to local tournaments and collegiate meets. We fenced NCAA powers like Notre Dame and Ohio State University as well as clubs like Indiana University and University of Michigan. I found many life-long friends in the Purdue Fencing Club as well as my wife. When she graduated, I followed her to Texas A&M in 1995, where she attended graduate school.

At A&M, I started coaching the Ags and taking lessons in Houston at Salle Mauro Fencing Academy, where I had the opportunity to work with and learn from world champion fencers and coaches for nearly 20 years.

While the work was rewarding, I felt that Houston was missing a club that was focused not on elite fencers,  but on people who like me want an opportunity to find an amazing sport they can enjoy for the rest of their life. Enter Houston Sword Sports. I spoke with Liz and other like-minded individuals, and we’ve put together a plan we think will bring a lot of joy to a lot of people.

Hope you join us for the ride.

Doing a demo at the West U Rec Center on Bellaire.

Doing a demo at the West U Rec Center on Bellaire.

Yeah, we did a tournament at a local distillery. Bottles of rum for prizes. This is a good sport.

Yeah, we did a tournament at a local distillery. Bottles of rum for prizes. This is a good sport.

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From Mom to Musketeer – The Buzz Magazines

Originally published in The Buzz Magazines, September 1, 2009:

From Mom to Musketeer

Cheryl Laird

Writer Cheryl Laird salutes before fencing at her first Summer Nationals tournament. (Photo: Christopher Germano)

Life-changing moments come in all shapes. For me, it was a beekeeper’s mask. Actually, it just looked like a beekeeper’s mask, with its black metal mesh.

“It’s for fencing,” said my husband. I finished unwrapping his Christmas present and posed awkwardly for a photo. The gift came with fencing lessons.

“For me?” I thought. “You shouldn’t have. Really.”

He explained that since I rode horses and loved fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings, he figured that all I was missing was the sword.

It was the most thoughtful present I ever had received. And I didn’t want it. Fencing was way out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t like to do things I didn’t know how to do.

Besides, I was a mom to two young kids. Moms don’t poke other people with long sticks. Moms apply too much sunscreen and fall asleep at 9 p.m. It had taken time for me to embrace motherhood, but now I had settled comfortably into my role.

At the first class, I felt as if I had wandered into the wrong room and didn’t have sense enough to leave. It was embarrassing to jog with the younger students with all my extra mom softness flapping around.

When we picked up our weapons, my teacher told me to hit her. I tentatively reached out. It felt wrong to stab her so that the steel bent. Unlike the adolescent boys in the class, I hadn’t grown up play-fighting. My sister and I didn’t wrestle. When I got hurt, I didn’t tough it out in silence.

It took a while, but I came to relish those nights. My bruises became badges of honor. Maybe the foil wasn’t a real sword, but I felt like a hero. When I got a touch, I felt a rush of primal satisfaction. I liked competition. How could I have forgotten that?

It slowly dawned on me that as rewarding as motherhood was, it wasn’t the final chapter in my life. I was still the same tomboy I used to be. Saying vows and giving birth didn’t make me a girly-girl.

Some of my friends didn’t get it. But others who had passions – art, horses, work – did. We shared our guilt over time spent away from family. We wondered whether we were good role models. I wished out loud that I had fallen for cooking or something useful. But I felt undeniably alive.

This summer, I placed well enough in local tournaments to qualify for the year-end U.S. Summer National Championships. I drove up to Dallas with a friend from my West University-area fencing club, Salle Mauro.

The convention center was packed with competitors, most under drinking age. But there were a surprisingly large number of people my age and older.

At first, I went into my old mode of “Oh, isn’t it funny that I’m doing this?” If I didn’t act as if I wanted to win, then it wouldn’t hurt to lose. Not surprisingly, that attitude didn’t pay off, and the results of my first foil event were nothing special.

The next day, I competed in epee. In epee, you can hit your opponent all over, while foil has different rules and a smaller target area. I was newer to epee and didn’t expect much.

But sometime during my bout, I realized that my opponent didn’t know me, or that I was someone’s mom. She was scared. Of me. I began to predict what she would do and beat her to the punch. It worked. And then it worked on the next girl. And almost the next one.

I lost to her 15-14. When I lost, I threw back my head and yelled in frustration. And it felt awesome. I had done all that I could do, and she beat me fairly. But I could have beat her. And the next time, I would. I realized, finally, that I deserved to be there as much as anyone.

The final day was a foil event for women in their 40s. The veteran fencers’ actions were clean and beautiful. Until they took off their masks, you couldn’t tell their age. It was inspiring, and I was satisfied with placing in the top half.

Afterward, I learned that a woman in her ‘80s was fencing that week. “The shell ages,” she had said, “but the desire to compete is the same.”

I get it now. Thanks to the gift of a beekeeper’s mask.

– See more at: http://thebuzzmagazines.com/articles/2009/09/mom-musketeer#sthash.OeaNftQj.dpuf

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A Sporting Chance – The Buzz Magazines

Originally published in The Buzz Magazines, May 2008:

A Sporting Chance

 By Cheryl Laird, Staff Writer

May 2008

You know those moms who complain about driving to all their kid’s sports activities, the ones who go on about how their tyke needs to be ferried to soccer, basketball, baseball, swim team, and so on?

They sigh. But look closer. Underneath their burdened expression lurks the barely contained satisfaction of a proud mama.

We see it. We—the moms of the non-sports kids—smile and ask polite questions. Sometimes we fish for information: “So, do you ever have to make your kid go to practice?” “Does he like it?”

“Oh, yeah, he loves it,” is a common response. And we glance over at our kid, who is sitting still, reading his book, completely ignoring the running kids.

But occasionally, we hear glimmers of another dynamic. One woman I know cheerfully admits to forcing her girls to play soccer against their will.

“It’s good for them,” she says. “When I was little, I was never made to do anything. So I can’t do anything.”

What to do? We know the dangers of overscheduling our kids and how we’re supposed to respect our child’s innate inclinations.

On the other hand, we hear about how kids today are overweight, how they sit still too much, and don’t move their bodies.

Perhaps worse, we remember (or were one of) those kids who were left out because they couldn’t throw a ball, or dodge the dodgeball, or tease each other in the easy manner that teammates instinctively have.

The good news is if your child is at all motivated to find a sport, be assured there is one out there. Just cast your net wide and look beyond the obvious.

Mason Cole, 8, struggled in sports until he discovered tae kwon do. Now he is working on his black belt.

Mason Cole, 8, struggled in sports until he discovered tae kwon do. Now he is working on his black belt.

Laurel Agris’s son, 8-year-old Mason Cole, is a star academically, and he plays chess for hours. But in sports, he struggled. It didn’t help that he was small for his age.

“He couldn’t catch the ball. He couldn’t hit the ball. We tried gymnastics. He’d flop sideways doing a somersault,” she says. “If he didn’t care, then I wouldn’t have cared. But he wanted to find something.”

Mason found his calling with tae kwon do. The Korean martial art combines the mental and physical. Mason began taking lessons at Young Brothers Tae Kwon Do, and memorized Korean terms and complicated kata forms. His size was no hindrance.

Now, when he must participate in “Share Your Talent Day” at school, he has something to show off. He is working on his black belt, and mom says his self-esteem has skyrocketed.

Liz Donnenberg, 15, likes the mental aspects of fencing used to figure out her opponents.

Liz Donnenberg, 15, likes the mental aspects of fencing used to figure out her opponents.

For Liz Donnenberg, karate didn’t do the trick. Soccer was a nightmare. As mom Vicki remembers it, “She would stand in the middle of the field and just cry.” Vicki later learned that Liz’s dyslexia may have contributed to her difficulty with team sports.

But everything changed when Liz tried fencing one summer and discovered that she was good at it. Now 15, Liz has fenced for years at Salle Mauro Fencing Academy and has achieved the highest rating, an A, in epee (one of three fencing weapons). She hopes to win a college scholarship and make the 2012 Olympics.

“It’s all mental,” she says of fencing. “It’s your willpower, who wants to win the most, and figuring out your opponent. It’s like physical chess.”

Many kids who don’t like sports will try fencing, thanks to swords and swashbuckling fantasies. Vicki says fencing tournaments have “a completely different feeling than going to a football game. A lot of fencers look like people you’d see at the library.”

At the Texas Rock Gym, with its expanse of walls dotted with colorful grips, you see another sort of athlete. There, as rock music plays, members of a youth climbing team scurry up and down, preparing for indoor competitions and outdoor adventures.

Stuart Cook, 11, “belays” a safety line while Gus Cotton, 12, hangs from above, totally dependent on his partner. Gus hollers down: “All the other sports are man against man. But this is man against Mother Nature. Mother Nature can kick your butt any time.”

Margaret Fowler, 13, likes that archery is “a thinking sport.”

Margaret Fowler, 13, likes that archery is “a thinking sport.”

Some sports, like archery, require less movement (making it ideal for athletes in wheelchairs) but no less body control. “I equate it to being like a violinist. It comes down to eye coordination and ability to focus,” says Kevin Whiteford of Viking Archery.

Margaret Fowler, a 13-year-old archer who says she earned the No. 1 spot in Texas in 2006 for her age group, likes that her sport makes her think, and that it’s unique.

“When you tell people about it,” she said, “they’re like ‘Wow, you’re interesting.’ ”