Road trips to the industrial park

It’s supposed to be a two and a half-hour drive down I95 from my house to Silver Spring, Maryland, but it’s more like three hours, or maybe four on the way back when I’m tired.

Fencing clubs are usually in suburban industrial parks, old factory buildings, or storefronts in tumbledown areas, because you need open space, high ceilings, dependable floors, parking, and low rent. DC Fencers Club is in an industrial park near a couple of roofing companies and an automotive supplier, and I have been there more times than I can count, or than these medals show.

Twelve assorted Capitol Division Medals
DCFC medals

The head coach at DCFC, Janusz, is a very good guy, and his club puts on three yearly events that I particularly liked: The Captain Steere Open, the Tom Wright Memorial, and the Amazon Open.

The Captain Steere is a small informal event and not a big deal, it’s just that it tends to happen at a convenient time of the year. I’ve fenced it at least twice, and one of those times was because my mother wanted to see me fence and because my sister could drive up to hang out with us. However, fencing is not a spectator sport. Except maybe for national and international events when the two finalists are up on a well-lit raised platform with a mic on the referee and great big scoring machines, it’s hard to figure out what’s happening.

Also, I tend to be grouchy when I am competing, and all my life my mother liked to do something I call “poking the bear,” which was to make sarcastic comments until she got a rise out of me. I was already grouchy with adrenaline, so I had to walk away from her a few times; she was not well because of her Parkinson’s, and it wouldn’t be fair to tell her off.

I had a good day, and was up against an acquaintance named Keith in the gold medal bout. When I won the tournament, Keith’s coach, the owner of the club, Janusz, beamed with delight, and said to me, “See how easy it is, how simple, when you do it right?” Then Janusz asked me to help him show Keith what he was doing wrong, and I did, because I believe we’re all in this together and because Janusz is a neat guy.

The Tom Wright Memorial is another tournament at DCFC. It’s a “veteran” tournament (for fencers who are over 40), and is fenced mixed, meaning men and women can compete, but there is a separate gold medal for the highest finishing female fencer and for the highest finishing male fencer.

The first time I fenced the Tom Wright, I ended up in the gold medal bout against a fencer named Steve who is around my age. I have known Steve for years, and he is one of those gentlemen who is nice and a little sweet until he loses a bout. I have seen Steve absolutely helpless with outrage, because he could not possibly have lost. He goes around explaining that to everyone.

Our referee was another over-40 fencer, a person who is the distilled essence of fencing eccentricity. This gentleman believes he knows everything and he is always right, and he talks a blue streak. He is also even older than me, so a fossil like myself.

There is a halfway break in a 15-touch sabre fencing bout, and I was leading at the break. During the one-minute pause, my referee went over to talk to Steve. I suddenly realized he was telling Steve what to do; in other words, he was coaching him during the bout he was refereeing. This is expressly forbidden.

Steve rallied after the break and beat me, and I said to the referee, “You can’t do that!”

“You know how Steve is about losing to women,” said the referee, in a reasonable tone. “Anyway, you already had the gold for the women.”

Another DCFC coach who was nearby while this was going on, Darius, came over and told me I should ask him to come referee next time.

The next time I did the Tom Wright, my opinionated friend wasn’t refereeing; we had impartial refs, thank goodness. It was an excellent event, with fifteen fencers, and it was very strong because there was a national over-40 event coming up. The winner would earn a B classification. Everyone was fencing at the top of their game, including me. And now, I was once again in the gold medal bout, against another man I knew well, Chris. Chris didn’t have a B yet, just a C, and he could smell that B rating.

So Chris got excited. Chris went fast, and when that didn’t work, he went faster. This happens to a lot of older fencers, who remember being fifteen, but who don’t realize that they don’t have fifteen-year-old smoothness and strength any more. I, on the other hand, started when I was already too old to go fast, so I have my ways of compensating, and I beat Chris.

Afterwards, he knew what his mistake had been and laughed ruefully about it. (He earned a B at the next national event). And once again, I got the women’s gold medal.

The Amazon Open was the third event I always went to at DCFC, and it was because of my friend Val. The Amazon was originally just an epee event (Val is an epeeist), but she decided to add a sabre tournament, and asked me to talk it up among my friends. She is one of the kindest and most reliable people in the world, and I would do anything for Val, including drive to DC in June to fence in a space that was, for a long time, not well air-conditioned. Besides, though it was never large, the Amazon was a lot of fun. Val always found neat prizes for the competitors, and provided good snacks. And though most of the competitors were usually young women, I could look forward to seeing a few over-40 friends, including Laura (a trauma surgeon) (Val is an otolaryngologist) (did I mention that fencers tend to be amazingly overqualified?) (did I mention that at one Amazon Laura, Val and I posed for a photo as “The Three Doctors?”). It was always good fencing, too.

And then, one day, Val texted me a photo. She had acquired a neat trophy for the next Amazon sabre competition. She had named it after Laura and me, because we always showed up for the Amazon.

Yes, I cried.

Yes, the reason I drove down to DCFC so many times, in spite of how dispiriting I95 is, in spite of the wear and tear, and even in spite of my odd referee, was because the people there were kind to me. Janusz, Darius, Val, Laura, Chris, and all the other nice people I so often saw there, always made me feel like I belonged. And now there’s something with my name in it down there, even though I’m not fencing any more.

A trophy with the figurine of a woman on top, holding a sword.
Turner-Johnson Trophy

4 thoughts on “Road trips to the industrial park

  1. Polly says:

    Hi Delia, that trophy is wonderful.
    I remember the Captain Steere well, and for me it was definitely a spectator sport. I’ll never forget you being up against the strapping young man and dispensing with him readily. Was that Keith? It was all I could do to not jump up from my seat and roar when you won. I had to stifle myself because I didn’t want anyone to feel emasculated. 😉 You explained that you weren’t fast and you weren’t strong, but you were good at coming at your opponent in a way that made them think you were, and at slipping the sabre in for the touch at the right place and time while they were coming at you.
    That was the day when, after the event and we were all heading home, we were following you in my car and you did a U-turn in the middle of the street. A police car immediately pulled up next to you, and you immediately rolled down the window, smiled disarmingly, and asked directions to the highway. You were so off-putting, the officer did a double take, gave you directions, and you went on your way. You were in top form, exhibiting the same skills you used on that strapping young man. I was so impressed.

    1. DMT says:

      SOMEHOW I keep forgetting about that U-turn 🙂

      It is SUCH a cool trophy. Thanks for the kind words—that was quite an outing.I drove Mom home playing klezmer music on the car stereo most of the way.

  2. mary anne says:

    Oh, Larry….he always was…something, anyways. Definitely, neither a good or particularly nice person.

    I hadn’t realized Val named the trophy after you and Laura. That is wonderful!

    1. DMT says:

      Larry is a sort of Godzilla. An unstoppable force. And he hits too hard. I have too many Larry stories.

      Val is so unflappable. She is something else.

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