You can’t be the worst if you beat the best

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Not committed, winning anyway

By Stephen Petrick

Amy Blackburn isn’t a sporty person, but Saturday she did something even some of Ryerson’s best athletes rarely do: win a varsity event.

The first-year radio and television arts student jumped up and down after helping the women’s foil team to a 45-37 win over the Brock University Badgers at a University of Toronto invitational fencing tournament.

The win, Ryerson’s lone in four attempts en route to an eighth-place finish in the nine-team event, was a modest start for a team made up of four beginners.

“For four first-year players it’s incredible,” said Blackburn, referring to teammates Kristy Long, Maggie McLean and Heather Dicke. “We didn’t expect it at all.”

Ryerson’s fencing club is an oddity in university sports. While other teams show up at tournaments appearing as groups of dedicated athletes wearing flashy team jackets, Ryerson usually puts a pile of inexperienced students into foil, sabre and epee competitions.

The club doesn’t pride itself on racking up wins, but rather providing learning experiences for students.

“I wanted to expand my horizons,” said Blackburn, a Huntsville, Ont. native who never played sports in high school. “Fencing was a way of doing that without taking up my whole life.”

High-profile sports teams at Ryerson, such as basketball, volleyball and hockey practice every weekday. Fencing teams cater to casual athletes and only practice three times a week.

But that doesn’t mean practices are a breeze, Blackburn says.

“The first time we practiced we ran up and down the gym for an hour,” she said. “For someone who’s never been on a sports team, I was down. I was ready to draw a chalk line around myself.”

While being in good physical condition is important for fencers, the sport is better known as a thinking-person’s game — or as assistant fencing coach Brian Hartwell says, “a physical game of chess.”

In foil competitions, plays usually last no more than five seconds and athletes usually have to plan their counter attacks while defending an opponent’s move. Teams of three play up to 45 points with players alternating each time the leading team hits an interval of five.

“When I first heard about fencing it didn’t even seem like a sport,” Blackburn said. “It’s almost theatrical. I’ve been a jock racist my whole life. Now I have a lot more respect for people who play sports.”

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