Nothing else matters except for the adversary that lay ahead.
Maintaining focus, anticipating each and every move, and blocking all sense of anxiety is key.
Carefully examining the opponent so she can counter the first attack, she balances her footwork and on cue swiftly raises her saber in response as the referee closely watches.
The hit is clear, and advanced lunges follow, as senior Despina Tsitlakidou focuses on fencing her way to success.
“I can be really nervous before a competition and just like you know have butterflies in my stomach and cold feet, but then the moment that I plug in all my equipment, and sit in the strip end I am ready to go,” Tsitlakidou said. “I just feel like I’m in the zone, like I’m in my right place, like nothing really else matters; I am just really calm.”
Tsitlakidou’s fencing career was influenced from her mother. Mia Kee devoted 18 years of her life to fencing. Fencing was her passion, but due to differences in her Korean culture that conflicted with the sport, she couldn’t continue.
“I came across my mom’s equipment, so I decided to try it on and surprise her, and then she saw me for the first time,” Tsitlakidou said. “She saw me with a mask on and a foil in my hands, and she was just laughing. After that I kind of took a couple of classes and it kicked off from there.”
Mia Keewanted her daughter to go after her interests, without any obstacles.
“When she [Despina] was a little girl, I wanted her to do whatever she wanted to be, enjoy fencing,” Mia Keesaid.” I started teaching her when she was five, and took her to the fencing club.”
Despite, Tsitlakidou’s young fencing exposure, her fencing career has been an intermittent process.
Tsitlakidou first fenced at age five, then stopped. She picked up the sport again at age nine, fenced for seven months, until she stopped and resumed freshman year. Following freshman year, she dropped the sport again until junior year. Since then she has continued with the sport.
“She got fussy a little bit and didn’t want to do it, but when she got into high school, she said she wanted to do it, and that’s why we started it again,”Mia Keesaid. She’s good enough to do the elite class. She’s doing pretty well and she’s coaching right now.”
For Tsitladkidou’s varied fencing career, she has been working hard towards actively improving and competing.
“For the amount of experience that she’s had, she’s been competing a lot in the last season,” Tsitlakidou’s fencing coach, Scott Dressell said. “This is her second real season that she’s been spending a lot of time and competing.”
Tsitladkidou practices her fencing skills at the Renaissance Fencing Club, in Troy Michigan, and has been coaching intermediate students for the past five months.
Typical fencing practice for Tsitlakidou involves a warm up of handball, or soccer, followed by runs and intensive footwork. The fencers practice cuts with their blades, perform drills involving both handwork and footwork and conclude with thirty minutes of fencing.
One of Tsitlakidou’s first fencing competitions had her participate in a National Qualifiers competition, in which she took part in saber fencing and placed third.
Saber fencing amongst it’s other two types foil and epée uses a cross-section of a blade that is similar to a Yor V shape and involves more sporadic movements, with fencers targeting their opponents around the torso, above the waist, and the head.
“Despina is really motivated, she’s smart, she works hard,” Dressell said. “She’s one of those students that you’re always happy to have because she’s driven to be the best she can be and she’s anxious to get more, learn more, and do more, so she’s a real pleasure.”
Tsitlakidou’s kindled passion for saber fencing has led her to want to continue with the sport through college.
“It’s very competitive. The strongest fencers are in college fencing, it’s very, very tough,” Dressell said. “In order to find a spot in a varsity college team she’s [Despina] going to have to work very hard and post some good results. I have confidence that she’ll be able to do that.”
Tsitlakidou has been contacting fencing coaches, and has narrowed her college choices to Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Mercy, both of which have shown interest to recruiting her onto their college teams. Tsitlakidou would hopefully attend either one through a fencing scholarship.
“I think she’s pretty good at fencing; she’s pretty accurate at it,” Alexi Tsitlakidis said. “Sometimes she might have these bad days, but others she’s really good, she comes back.”
Mia Kee loves to watch her daughter succeed with her passion and push herself to be the best she can be.
“She’s very competitive, after tournaments she will always be like; I should have, would have, or could have…” Mia Kee said. She really learns from her mistakes and tries hard about that. I think she will do the fencing for the rest of her life. “
Fencing has had a definite impact on Tsitlakidou’s life.
“It’s given me a lot of self-control, and a lot more independence,” Tsitlakidou said. “It’s definitely taught me a lot of discipline. It’s just been progressively getting better. I’m not stopping any time soon.”