Fernandez gets to the point

Rodrigo+Fernandez+and+Nickolas+Harvey+prepare+for+the+upcoming+tournaments.+

Terrence Lasker

Rodrigo Fernandez and Nickolas Harvey prepare for the upcoming tournaments.

By Archer Streelman, Henry W. Grady High School

When high school athletes are asked what sports they play, many answer with traditional spectator sports like soccer, football, baseball and basketball. Sophomore Rodrigo Fernandez, however, would say fencing.

Fernandez discovered his love for fencing at a Nellya Fencers Club summer camp as he entered the third grade. Fencing is a combat sport that is popular in Asian and European countries and is one of the original five Olympic sports, starting with the 1896 games.

“At that age, I loved sword fighting,” Fernandez said. “They gave us fake swords and masks, and we messed around the whole time. I thought it was like pirate fighting. It was really fun, so I decided to sign up later at the same place. Once you join the club, you sign up for USA Fencing, which is the national league.” 

Seven years later, Fernandez still enjoys fencing and is happy to spend his free time practicing and competing.

“I like the competitive part of fencing,” Fernandez said. “It always feels good to win at something you work hard at and train a lot for.”

Arkady Burdan has coached Fernandez for six years. He believes building a foundation and committing to practices makes a good fencer. 

“Rodrigo’s strengths are that he is a smart fencer, and he works very hard,” Burdan said. 

There are three weapons in fencing: the sabre, the foil, and the épée. An opponent will have the same weapon. The weapon of choice can be very telling and will affect the length of the match and how a competitor aims to bank a point. Fernandez competes with the sabre, which takes the least amount of time, and it is used by thrusting at the opponent and cutting. 

“Foil and épée are not as fun as sabre,” Fernandez said. “It is the fastest and was the most common in Atlanta when I started competing.”

Soon after attending the summer camp, Fernandez began playing year round. He traveled all over the country and started participating in international competitions.  His favorite competition was nationals in San Francisco, Calif. 

“I love how I get to travel everywhere; this is one of my favorite parts,” Fernandez said. “It does kind of suck that tournaments are on weekends, and the tournament is the whole entire day; so, we stay in the hotel, then fence, and then leave. We go to the places, but we don’t get to do anything besides fence.” 

Fencing is mentally challenging and highly strategic. It requires more tactical awareness than actual physical activity. 

“Fencing requires a lot, a lot of strategy,” Fernandez said. “The type of fencing I do is the  fastest, so you have one or two seconds to do what you have to do, or you’re going to lose the ‘touch.’ You have to be planning six touches in advance. You have to read what the other person is going to do in the future.”

In 2019, Fernandez fenced in the Junior Olympics, which is the championship for youth fencers. He worked hard to qualify for the tournament in which people come from all over the country and world to participate in. His friends admire his hard work.

“Rodrigo had been practicing every day for a while before this big tournament,” sophomore Keegan Kronenberger said. “I heard it was on TV, but it was on a school night, and it was on at 1:00, so I couldn’t watch. It was still cool to know somebody who had been on TV.”

Youth fencing was halted in March because of Covid-19, so Fernandez has not competed since. Fencing takes place indoors, making social distancing difficult. He continues to practice two to three times a week, unlike his three to four times before the pandemic. 

“I have not had a tournament in ten or eleven months,” Fernandez said. “People travel from many states and countries to compete in fencing tournaments, so we don’t know if they are taking care of themselves with Covid. The biggest fencing places are New York and California in the United States, and they have extremely high cases. It would not be safe or realistic.”

Though more common sports have their perks, fencing has its own benefits, including opportunities to compete in college.

“It’s interesting to play a less known sport because you get to explain your sport to everyone, even though it’s really hard to explain,” Fernandez said.  “Sometimes I wish I could have done a sport that most people play, but since this is a sport that not a lot of people play, it’s easy to get good fast. You have more opportunities for college.”  

This story was originally published on The Southerner on January 8, 2021.