WORKOUT-SIDE THE BOX: Épée the Day Away at Olympia Fencing Center

olympia fencing centerPhotos by Jess Benjamin

This winter, the perfect antidote to cabin fever could just be mixing up your workout—whether that means putting on your dancing shoes, practicing your swordsmanship or braving frigid temps on your bike.

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“When I mention to most of my friends that I do fencing, they’re like, ‘Oh, cool! How does it feel to stab someone?” laughs 12-year-old Olympia Fencing Center student Jaden Ruan. “They think it’s really easy, that you just stab someone, but it’s actually a lot harder than that.”

Ruan has been training at Olympia, the largest fencing center in New England, for just about two years. He and his fellow students work really, really hard. He’s at the North Cambridge facility after school four days a week, and he means it when he says it’s more than just stabbing someone—a typical class starts with running, stretching, jumping rope, footwork practice and drills. It’s not until the last half-hour or so of each class that the actual fencing begins.

But Ruan doesn’t mind that the sport is so challenging. In fact, he loves it.

“I like that it’s really dependent on you,” he says. He also plays basketball, but he enjoys fencing because it’s a skill you develop personally—it doesn’t matter if you’re particularly tall or fast: “It’s about if you’re willing to put in the commitment, not if your entire team is willing to put in the commitment.”

In the words of 12-year-old Kira Hartness, who’s been fencing since September 2015, “The harder you work, the better you get.” She trains at Olympia three days a week. “It feels good to get out my energy in a certain way,” Hartness says. “It’s really precise … you can always learn something new in a new way.”

Olympia’s founder and director is Daniel Hondor, a former Romanian National Champion and coach of the Romanian National Team who—no joke—started fencing after he saw The Three Musketeers at age seven. He explains that much of the center’s programming is invitational.

Students have to want to put in the work and really commit themselves, and they tend to rise to meet those expectations because they feel both challenged and supported. “We run this as a big, happy family,” Hondor says. “This is what we are.”

The dedication pays off—his trainees have gone on to compete internationally and some are among the highest-ranked fencers in the world. The front room of the club is lined with pennants from former students who have gone on to study and compete at some of the top universities in the country.

It’s a hit with parents, too. “What’s interesting about this club is their inclusiveness,” says Eve Encinas-Loncar, who started coming to Olympia with her son about three years ago and later became its community relations manager. She sees how hard the kids work and says they’re encouraged— but never pushed—to do so. They learn the importance of discipline, the benefits of studying, how to eat well, how to balance work and play.

“You get them ready for life, basically,” Hondor adds. “It’s a live video game. Your brain is always engaged. It’s about making a split-second decision, about making the right decision.”

And there’s still plenty of time for fun, and for, you know… actual video games. Ruan says he’s partial to Madden, NBA 2K16—and, of course, a fencing app that he’s installed on his phone.

Check back later this week for outside-the-box profiles on The Dance Complex and one very dedicated winter cyclist!

This story originally appeared in the January/February issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 250 locations throughout the city or by subscription

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