Fighting Fit: Fencing In My 70s

Date: 12 July 2022   Author: Energise Me

Throughout her life, Susan has always enjoyed combat sports. But after cancer and a few other injuries, she had to adapt and find a new way to stay active. Now at 70, she is still putting up a fight, fencing.

Growing Up Active

I began my somewhat unconventional journey into sport when my school announced a new program and rather than our usual efforts to keep fit, they began Judo classes. I was delighted and at about the age of 15 I took the first step on my ‘fighting’ journey.

Though often beaten by my opponent, I learnt that a willingness to come out fighting meant I was never going to be a pushover. So, I decided to go to classes outside of school and learn the techniques more thoroughly. After 2 years, I achieved my green belt and overtook everyone else in the school classes!

After leaving school, I moved, went to work and forgot about Judo for a while, but I still yearned for the feeling I felt when I was doing Judo. I missed the sense of achievement that came from facing an opponent and fighting to the best of my ability. So, I started looking for something similar and found Karate.

I began training in my mid-20’s and carried on for some 40 years. I opened a club on the Isle of Wight in 1985 and taught several hundred people over the years. I even went on to achieve 5th Dan! However, after working away in Cambridge, I stopped teaching and regular training.

Being Active After Retirement

I retired from work in 2015, and suddenly had time to start another chapter. So, I briefly flirted with Tae Kwan Do which I was really enjoying until 2016 when I received a breast cancer diagnosis. The treatment put me out of action for a while. Then it was the best part of a year before I felt well enough to go back to training, and I chose to restart Judo classes.

Being in my 60s, I found the sport much harder this time but still went on to achieve my blue belt in July 2017. And all was going well until I sustained an injury, a broken tibia.

Susan in her fencing uniform, smiling in front of a green curtain.

Susan in her fencing uniform.

Finding A Sport To Suit Me

Then one day, I turned up to watch a sponsored wall climb at my local sports centre. I heard the clash of steel from behind a curtain. Intrigued, I went to investigate…

I had never considered fencing before, but when I saw them practising, I knew it was the obvious choice for me.

The coach told me about the classes, and I said I would return the following week to start.

I arrived at my first class to find most of the other students at that time were teenage boys. So, they did look at me strangely. It took several months until they realised, I was a permanent addition to the group. With some persistence on my part, we eventually interacted as equals.

Anyone can fence – young or old, standing or sitting – there are no barriers which cannot be overcome.

Why I Love Fencing

After they all inevitably went to university, the club got a whole new membership. The adult class became filled with a much wider range of ages with different backgrounds and abilities. And we all attend every week with as much eagerness as we did the last.

I have even achieved a Bronze Proficiency award recently for foil which includes some theory and a demonstration of various techniques. The coach has also mentioned he may look into some veterans competitions for me!

Anyone can fence – young or old, standing or sitting – there are no barriers which cannot be overcome. I remember once, I went to class with a twisted ankle and the coach decided we should all try fencing from chairs to simulate wheelchair fencing.

Whether it’s the willingness to learn something new that challenges my mind and body, or the sense of safety in the room, or the community feel among the group, I’m not sure. But fencing has been life-changing for me. It keeps my spirit alive, helps me to stay fit and I enjoy learning about the sport’s history and traditions. At 70 years old, I feel like I’m still a part of something special.

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