Apex: Fencer advances through life one lunge at a time

Ishani Sood (11) faces off against opponents with fierceness


Emma Milner

Ishani Sood (11) lunges forward with foil in hand, ready to advance. As a nationally ranked fencer, she trained for eight years and recently joined Team USA Fencing.

By Gemma Chan, Chayce Milheim, Emma Milner, and Hima Thota

Sweat drips off Ishani Sood (11)’s brow as she readies herself before a final bout. With just 30 seconds left on the clock, she needs 5 points to win, while her opponent only needs 1. Setting slim chances aside, she plants her feet, takes a deep breath, and prepares herself for the challenge ahead. Lunging toward her opponent, Ishani takes on the challenge.

Ishani recalls an intense experience in the Fortune Fencing Summer Regional Junior and Cadet Circuit Competition, where she took first in Junior Women’s Foil. Introduced to fencing originally by her older brother at 8 years old, she worked over the years to become a nationally-ranked fencing champion, practicing four times a week at the California Fencing Academy. With local, national and international events, she participates in at least one competition each month.

Ishani’s biggest achievement in fencing so far is her win at the Summer Nationals in Division 1A this year. Following her placement into a direct-elimination draw after coming out at the top of her pool, she successfully won each round, ending with a gold medal as well as a high rating.

“I feel like all the hard work that I had done over the past couple years was very rewarding,” Ishani said. “It just felt like everything had finally come into one place, and I finally achieved what I wanted. It was just the most satisfying thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Ishani describes the mental setbacks she faced during the tournament and how confidence is one of the key aspects of overcoming doubt. She also notes how staying focused in the moment helps her assume control during competition.

“During that competition actually, the very first bout I had, I almost lost,” Ishani said. “It was 15-14 and I was losing so that was extremely terrifying. If I hadn’t won that one, I wouldn’t have gotten first – I would have been out. [In] that whole experience, I was like ‘Ok I can’t let that happen again.’”

Coach Ania Tibbets, who has coached Ishani since she first started the sport, recognizes her determined spirit and dedication. As Ishani’s coach throughout her journey to national championships as well as the Pan American Games, Tibbets notes Ishani’s constant desire for perfection in every detail of her fencing.

“She likes to do everything perfectly well, and [she works] very hard, sometimes too hard,” Tibbets said. “She’s a fighter [and] she’s been a fighter since she was young. The other coaches used to call her little tiger.”

Close friend Shareen Chahal (11), who met Ishani in kindergarten, recalls a time when Ishani struggled with doubts about her performance as a fencer. However, Ishani pushed through self-doubt to win her competitions.

“We talked about how she was really stressed and worried about how she was going to do at an upcoming national competition,” Shareen said. “She won and was really proud of her performance. I’ve [never] seen her that happy for her own accomplishment, and I was so proud of how much effort she puts into getting those results.”

Although she has won many medals over the years, Ishani notes that the learning process has been more valuable, especially at times when she wasn’t able to gain the results she wanted.

“The things that shape you more are the times that you don’t have all the medals because you learn way more from your losses than your actual wins,” Ishani said. “[So] I have to find it in myself to win those last rounds where I may have been struggling.”

For Ishani, traveling internationally to tournaments means that she represents Team USA alongside her supportive teammates. She competed twice in France this past year, and plans to travel to Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland in the coming months.

I think what’s important is that you really have to love what you’re putting your time into. I put so much time into fencing because I truly love it. That’s why I’ve done it all these years and that’s what keeps me going.

— Ishani Sood (11), Team USA fencer

“The internationals are way more fun than the regular national tournaments because [we] all work as a team together, and for Team USA, we all cheer each other on and support each other,” Ishani said. “Even though it’s intense, it’s a way more fun experience than the regional competitions.”

Ishani has her eye on the 2023 Junior Olympics in February as she completes her last year in the age category of Cadet, which includes fencers under 16. She explains how, although she is aiming for good results, she also is focusing on her performance and making sure that her fencing is up to par.

“For preparation, just going and competing is honestly the best preparation you can get because you just get more experience, so I’m kind of glad I have these internationals before [the Junior Olympics],” Ishani said. “I just want to do well. I want to make sure my fencing is good and set for that day because that’s definitely like the main endpoint – it’s probably the most important thing all year.”

Despite the significant achievements Ishani has made so far in her fencing career, she carries hopes of improved results in her upcoming matches and is motivated to continue her journey in fencing and reach new heights.

“I think what’s important is that you really have to love what you’re putting your time into,” Ishani said. “I put so much time into fencing because I truly love it. That’s why I’ve done it all these years and that’s what keeps me going. I love everything about fencing.”

This story was originally published on Harker Aquila on November 11, 2022.