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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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