'Veteran' fencers, like Georgina Love, stay sharp as they get older
The best older fencers in the world are wrapping up the Veteran World Fencing Championships in Daytona Beach Monday.
They’re in three age categories, 50s, 60s and 70-plus. Wearing protective gear and masks and beeping with every sword touch, the fencers parry and thrust backward and forward on narrow strips.
Georgina Love, of Fort Pierce, is one of those veteran athletes with USA Fencing.
Love lives in Fort Pierce and runs theTreasure Coast Fencing Club. She drives up the coast once a week to train in Melbourne.
The lithe 63-year-old is one of those rare fencers competing in two weapons. She placed fifth in foil on Wednesday and 10th epee on Sunday.
Love says she’s traveled to Europe for previous international tournaments.
"And this year," she said, "it's so exciting to be able to drive two hours and come to the World Championships."
Staying physically and mentally sharp
Early last week, Love met a reporter at Space Coast Olympic Fencing. Her coach, Daniel Bucur, tested and tweaked her gear. They masked up and did a few parries and ripostes for the reporter – snapping their swords together in rapid and rhythmic motions.
Fencing tests the athlete on so many of the challenges that come with growing older. There’s balance for instance, agility and speed – it requires nimbleness of mind and body.
Love works hard to stay physically sharp. She has avoided serious injury so far.
"[A]s we all get older, we all know you wake up one morning and can't move your neck just because you slept. So it doesn't always have to be an injury," Love said. "You can just be surprised one day by something deciding to not function properly."
She is competing at Worlds against women her age, but she also likes to enter open tournaments and test her steel against college-age fencers.
"Sometimes you just get slaughtered and sometimes you can make the college boys worry a little bit. So it's a lot of fun. I really enjoy the challenge," she said.
For Love, fencing is full of life lessons: taking a bout one touch at a time, learning to pick yourself back up and move forward after a tough loss.
Love works part-time at a museum, paints and used to compete in show horses.
But fencing is where she really excels. She started at age 42, just for fun, at first, and eventually entered competitions.
Love took over the Treasure Coast club to keep it going after her previous coach died in 2015.
She says her new coach has transformed her approach. She's learned technique and execution, Love said. "But the mental game is what he's really helped me with. He's taught me strategy and tactics that I can use to turn things around or make things happen."
With every lesson Love says she learns something new. Plus, the vigorous exercise keeps her mentally sharp.
"It just makes you feel good," she added. "Even for older fencers who just want to play around, it's a lot of fun. You just empty your brain of everything except stabbing your opponent. ... It is fun."
A demanding sport
USA Fencing’s director of sports medicine Dr. Peggy Chin says any older person considering fencing should see their doctor first – just in case there are concerns about falls or other underlying issues – because it’s a strenuous sport.
Chin said: "[Y]ou're going to be activating both your aerobic and your anaerobic, you know, systems. You're going to be utilizing hand-eye coordination at the same time. There is a lot of strategic thinking along the way, and there is a very physical component to it."
Fencing offers health benefits, like other sports. But Chin says there are challenges to access. It requires a lot of equipment and a skilled coach.
She says the sport also offers seniors opportunities for social connections.
Love says fencing has strengthened her confidence and helped her appreciate people along the way.
"I don't, I don't want to tear up," she said. "I'm just saying I think about the people I've met over the past 20 years. It's been, it's been wonderful. And I don't know what I would have done without it."