My Dad told me I had to practice for Summer Nationals – A LOT. He was not kidding. To begin with, he decided to send me to Ohio State camp all day. Then, when the camp finished, my dad would drive me over to Royal Arts where I would have a private lesson with Coach Tim. I did this for about three weeks – twenty-four seven. By the time I got to Reno, I couldn’t have been more physically prepared. Or so I thought.
The first time I walked into the venue, I was amazed about how many fencers there were which, in my opinion, was extremely intimidating. I watched some fencing including the pool bouts of Jewelia Smith, a Royal Arts saberist. After cheering her on during all her pools, it was time for me to leave. I had to go to sleep early since I was competing in the morning as was my brother. I thought about the venue. I thought about the fencers. I thought about my fencing. I started to worry about my ability to win and, being as stubborn as I am, did not tell anyone.
The next day, I woke up and got ready to fence. Truth be told, I was scared, but not just for myself, for everyone. If I lost, I felt like I would have let everyone down. Going into the venue did not exactly boost my confidence. It scared me even more when I saw some people I had fenced before and lost to: for instance, Alex Tilford who fences in Michigan; even worse than seeing him was seeing, as I like to call him, my arch enemy Robbie Foley (who has beaten me several times before, including at the qualifier for Nationals); and the menaces from the North, the Canadians from the Arnold. I felt like my head was about to explode from too much pressure.
After I checked in, Coach Tim gave me a warm up lesson which consisted of me running up and down a carpet outside of the Men’s room. Then we looked for people to fence. I fenced a handful of kids and then it was time to go. I was in the first flight on strip D4. I was number 7 and I was first up. I started to fence, completely rushing every move, forgetting everything my coaches taught me; the final score of the bout — 5-0. I had lost by the worst score possible. My mind just shut down.
After two more bouts, I was up again. When the ref said “Ready, Fence,” all I could think was, “Don’t lose five to zero.” I ended up coming back and scoring 4. The bout was tied. I actually started to think I was going to win. I thought to myself “Just get it over with, take the attack,” which by the way you should never do in a 4 to 4 bout. I rushed it and it was one light – his. I lost again. Then for the next two bouts, all I could think of was that I should have won. I ended up losing 5-3 and, once again, 5-0. I was the lowest in the pool and I knew that if I did not at least win one bout, I was going to lose Nationals. I fought another bout and won it 5-1. It really helped me but I got too excited and rushed the last point of the next bout –final score, 5-4. They were probably the worst pool bouts I had ever fenced in saber.
I think I could have won a few, maybe even all, of those bouts. I had the moves but no confidence. I ended up losing my first DE. It was a really bad day for me, but it also helped me realize something. You can be the best fencer in the world, but if you don’t have confidence, then you are not going win in this sport. That’s true in life too. So if you ever go into any big competitions, not only do you have to train hard, you have to believe that you can win.