We know, things have changed. Times are hard. For most of us, the experience of this pandemic has meant a fundamental change in our everyday lives. It’s time to realize that we cannot continue to stay still. We have to move forward.
There are a lot of terrible things that have happened with COVID-19. The loss of life is the worst and most humbling. That’s the piece that stops us in our tracks. The toll on healthcare providers, who are putting themselves in danger daily, is immeasurable. We recognize the magnitude of our frontline workers.
There are other terrible things too, the loss of jobs, the damage to the economy, the setbacks that kids face without school, the emotional and mental toll that it’s all taken on each of us. Fencing has been hard hit, with the competitions canceled, the distance from our community, and the dreams put on hold or dashed altogether.
Many of these things are irreparable.
What is easy to miss, but that we cannot miss, is that many of the things that we are facing are things that we can change. There is not a loss of power in this point of our history.
The dream of the Olympics is something that every fencer and every fencing parent thinks of at some point. It is a big dream, maybe a romantic dream, and definitely a far away dream for most fencers and their parents.
Cathy Zagunis is the mother of the most decorated American fencer in the history of our sport, sabre fencer Mariel Zagunis. Mariel is a four-time Olympian, with individual gold in both Athens and Beijing, and team bronze in Beijing and Rio. She was the Olympic flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies in London, though she just missed the podium with a fourth place finish. At the World Championships, Mariel has won four gold, five silver, and four bronze medals in the last twenty years. Recently, she was inducted into the FIE Hall of Fame. She is a fencer with longevity and vision, and when you talk to her mom you can see where she gets it from.
Since 1998, Cathy has been the Director of Programs at the Oregon Fencing Alliance in Portland. She herself is an Olympian, having competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as a rower. She’s also a National Champion in rowing.
What we learned from powerhouse fencing mom Cathy Zagunis in this interview is that these things are not as far away as they feel. Cathy is a parent who is grounded in the support of her children and the unconditional love she has for them. We found her to be the opposite of a tiger mom. In this interview, you’ll get some refreshing parenting insight that might change the way you think about what it means to parent a champion. (Hint: the secret isn’t pushing your child harder).
The “AFM Safe Shield” Returning to Training Guidelines are based on CDC health considerations and tools for operating during COVID-19, California schools’ guidelines, CDC Considerations for Youth Sports and Summer Camps, and Santa Clara County’s Public Health update and restrictions
Fencing is traditionally about swords, but now we are in a time when we need to act as a shield for our fencing community.
The last several months have been a whirlwind of change for everyone. Lockdowns, quarantine, social distancing, and a hefty dose of everyone feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Reopening is something that we all want to do, but we also want to do it safely.
The problem is, most of us in the fencing world aren’t health experts. The good news is that we don’t have to be. There are a whole host of guidelines and structures that have been published to help businesses create safety plans that will make reopening fencing clubs as safe as possible.
We’ve pulled information from the CDC, the government of California, and the Santa Clara County Health Department to create a plan for reopening fencing clubs, adapting it to the specifics of the fencing club training. Of course, there is always a risk and no system is perfect. However we have worked with experts and expert advice to come up with procedures that will minimize the risk of spreading the virus while also creating an environment where fencing training can continue. AFM is only working in clear accordance with the safety procedures laid out by Santa Clara County, all governmental restrictions and guidance, and what has been set out by Santa Clara County Schools.
AFM continues to keep the wellbeing of our fencers, their families, and our coaching team as our highest priority.
Flexibility, input, and accommodation
Safety is what matters, whether it is in small groups classes or in private lessons as we move towards a new normal. The AFM Safe Shield Plan brings together the power of leading experts, parent’s suggestions, and the shared responsibility between us all.
AFM is adopting the hybrid approach for training our fencers. Members have several options for training with AFM.
Small group training with precautions
Indoor or outdoor classes and private lessons
Any combination of the above
Everyone has their own considerations for safety and their own concerns about exposure. Whatever decision each family makes about their training, we support all of them. Accommodations and flexibility from us are a central tenet of our philosophy, especially now. Whatever we can do for fencing families, whether it is within these policies or not, we would love to hear it. All fencers deserve to have individual goals for training in fencing, no matter if they are in the club or training remotely. Growth is possible and still so important!
The input of families is a critical part of this process. This is a living document.
The road to Olympic Fencing qualification isn’t a straight one this time around. There are always surprises, but this year (next year now), coronavirus has made the whole process a lot more interesting and a lot less sure.
One related and important piece of news that also came out this week is that the chief officer of the Olympics, Thomas Bach, has stated that the games will not be postponed longer than 2021. If they cannot be held next year, the games will be canceled outright. To be clear – the organizers have said that they do not forsee the need to postpone beyond 2021, and there is no intention to do so. Of course, there was no intention to postpone them to begin with.
He said “You cannot every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide for all the major federations. You cannot have the athletes being in uncertainty, you cannot have so much overlapping with a future Olympic Games.”
The new Olympic dates are July 23 to August 8, 2021. We don’t yet know what form they will take. It is possible that they could be held without fans, though no decisions have been made yet, and IOC does not like this option at all. What we are hoping is that they will be held in some form! To that end, we now have a clear idea of what the fencing qualification procedures will be for the 2020 Olympics in 2021.
Peter Burchard is a well known name in the world of American Fencing. He’s been the head of the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association since 2014, and has a long history of working as an advocate for the sport. Just about everyone knows who Peter is thanks to his networking and work ethic.
Since 1970, he’s been involved in fencing as a fencer, a referee, a coach, and an administrator. He’s both a licensed referee instructor and examiner. Peter is the founder of North Bay Fencing in Santa Rosa and a coach in Halberstadt in San Francisco, California, which has been his home base for fencing for many years.
Currently, Peter is running for President of USA Fencing against the incumbent USFA President Don Anthony (you can find our interview with Don Anthony here). Peter sat down with AFM to talk about his vision for the future of American fencing, opportunities for the sport, the importance of clubs and local fencing, and much more.