By Erika Dreher
When Ryerson’s Mateusz Kozak was training for the OUA fencing championship, he knew he had the ability to walk away with a gold medal if he was able to beat his biggest competition: himself.
“I’m there physically and technically in the sport of fencing,” Kozak told the Eyeopener. “I would say I’m better than most [fencers] out there, but for me, it’s been a big challenge mentally.”
Kozak, a first-year language and intercultural relations student, says he has struggled with keeping a clear mind during competition this season. “I’ve been losing a lot against myself mentally,” he said. “For example, I’ll be leading and then I’ll lose [the match].”
“We worked a lot on mindfulness,” said Samuel Hardwicke, an assistant coach of the Ryerson fencing team who worked closely with Kozak this year. Hardwicke just finished his master’s in fashion at Ryerson, and was a member of the fencing team throughout his degree. Both years he competed, Hardwicke placed first in foil, and third in the team event.
At this year’s tournament, Kozak held his lead, and took home the individual gold medal for foil, while Ryerson finished third in the team event- the exact same finish Hardwicke had two years in a row.
Kozak is currently training for an event in Barcelona where he will be facing intense competition from around the world. Despite all this success, Kozak still gets nervous when competing for his Ryerson team.
“This competition is difficult,” Hardwicke said. “[Kozak] went in with the expectation to win. And while some people may think that would lead to an easy result, being the best fencer there, I would say its rather the opposite, because the expectation from everyone that you’re going [to win] leads to more pressure.”
Kozak took the expectation as an added pressure, “Your whole team is watching you,” he said. “And everyone was expecting [success] from me. I was the favourite to win. That was the biggest success for me—that I lived up to my expectation.”
At six years old, Kozak’s parents enrolled him in fencing. Since then, he has competed nationally with the Toronto Fencing Club, and internationally for Team Canada. Even with those top-level competitions, Kozak says the level of coaching he receives at Ryerson ranks high on his list. Ryerson’s head coach, Alice Lu, is an Olympic-level coach.
“I would be nowhere without Alice,” Hardwicke said. “She helped me as a fencer, and now she’s helping me as a coach. The ability I have to coach [Kozak], has come from her.”
Kozak, a Brampton native, credits the sport for keeping him focused when he was younger. “Growing up in Brampton, especially at the high school I went to, there’s a lot of bad influences that could affect you,” he said. “But fencing was something that was mine. I worked hard, it keeps me healthy, and on top of that I meet a lot of amazing people.”
As the season comes to a close for the fencing team, Kozak seems to just be getting started. His goal for the rest of his time at Ryerson is to get a gold medal in the team event. And beyond Ryerson, his sights are set on the Olympics.