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Behind the Mask: Carolina Stutchbury’s Incredible Fencing Journey

Stutchbury (right) at the 2023 Senior World Championships in Milan, Italy. (Source: Stutchbury Family)
Stutchbury (right) at the 2023 Senior World Championships in Milan, Italy. (Source: Stutchbury Family)

“En garde! Prêtz? Allez!” The clash of blades, the swift movements, and the intense concentration behind the mask. This is the world of fencing, a combat sport that can be traced back to the 14th or 15 century in Europe. There are a handful of extremely talented fencers at Stanford OHS: Carolina Stutchbury, in particular, stands out for her remarkable achievements and unwavering commitment to the sport.

Stutchbury moved to Atlanta, Georgia when she was 11 but continues to fence for Great Britain. Despite her rigorous training schedule, she enjoys hobbies such as cooking, hanging out with her dog, and listening to music.

“It’s actually kind of funny because in my after-school club in England, we had a fencing club,” Stutchbury says. “I was eight at the time and my younger brother was seven, but he was really nervous to go by himself. So my mom forced me to go with him, but as soon as I started going, it was super fun.”

Stutchbury (8 years old) when she first started fencing at her after-school club. (Source: Stutchbury Family)

This unexpected beginning marked the start of her deep love for fencing, a journey that could have taken an entirely different path. While living in England, she tried a variety of sports: “I did hockey, swimming, and running. I actually liked field hockey more than fencing,” Stutchbury says. “But when I moved to Atlanta, fencing became a lot more accessible, so I started to enjoy it more.”

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Stutchbury found much success in the sport from a very young age. “The first major achievement for me was becoming the under-10 British National Champion,” she says. “I didn’t really expect to win or to do that well. I somehow made the finals and won 10-9.”

This early success continued throughout her teenage years, as she won the British Cadet and Junior Championships and earned bronze at the Cadet European Championships. “I really did not expect it to happen because it was my first ever international tournament,” Stutchbury says. “I was still very young and didn’t believe in myself much, but it pushed me to see that I could do it.”

Stutchbury recently made a significant leap from the junior to senior circuit, a transition that marked a new chapter in her journey. Competing at the senior level presented a formidable challenge and served as an eye-opening experience: “What really shocked me was the difference between junior and senior fencing. I didn’t really believe in myself much in senior fencing until this season,” Stutchbury says. “You see the people that you watched with awe, then you realize that they are also people. I’ve talked to some of the top fencers in the world, and you understand they’re just normal people as well.”

Currently ranked 7th among juniors and 32nd among seniors globally, Stutchbury is eying a spot in the Paris 2024 Olympics. There currently remain two spots for European fencers, and Stutchbury is 7 points behind the second spot with one competition remaining this season. If she does not make it, she must win the zonal qualifiers to do so.

Stutchbury outlines her rigorous training regimen for this moment: “I started doing strength and conditioning twice a week. My dad reached out to the Atlanta Falcons, and they recommended a person to me, which has been super great. I have a lot of private lessons, so three one-hour lessons per week. Then six out of seven days a week, I also have sparring.”

Of course, this would not be possible without an amazing support system. Stutchbury is coached by Dmitri Romankov, who is currently the head coach of Epic Fencing Club and the SCAD-Atlanta Varsity Fencing Team. He has produced incredibly talented fencers such as Alexander Choupenitch (bronze medalist at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics), Eleanor Harvey (currently ranked 12th in the world), Maximillien Chastanet (former junior world #1), etc.

“[Coach Romankov] is a high-level coach and brought in great sparring partners for me,” Stutchbury says. “I was really lucky that I have him as my coach, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

Stutchbury with her coach after winning bronze at the 2022 Junior World Championships. (Source: Stutchbury Family)

Stutchbury also had the opportunity to cross swords with some of fencing’s elite. One encounter with world-renowned Eleanor Harvey stands out as a defining moment in her young career: “I fenced against Eleanor twice in tournaments when I was 14,” Stutchbury says. “She always messaged me after the tournament saying congratulations. I remember she sent a message to my coach talking about how I’m a fighter, and that inspired and encouraged me a lot.”

After competing with some of the best in the world, Stutchbury has come to admire certain fencers for the distinct qualities they bring to the piste. “For Inna Deriglazova, I just admire her fencing style. I also love watching Maia Weintraub, as her fencing is so pretty and clean,” she says. “With Walczyk, I especially admire her mindset. I was watching one team match where Poland was down by about 10 points to Hungary, but she ended up winning the match. I truly admire having that motivation and strong mentality.”

Stutchbury shines not just on the fencing piste but also in her academic pursuits. As an OHS student, she balances her schedule to complete schoolwork while also having time for practice and competitions: “OHS is so unique and great because it allows me to choose the times that I have my classes,” Stuchbury says. “Since we have shorter hours of class per week, it really lets me do my schoolwork on my own terms. It definitely helps that I can attend classes when I’m abroad.”

Stutchbury’s journey through the competitive world of fencing exemplifies the essence of dedication and the pursuit of excellence. Her story serves as a beacon for aspiring athletes, underscoring the importance of passion and resilience to achieve success. She offers some valuable insights for those looking to follow a similar path to becoming a competitive fencer:

“I would say the biggest piece of advice is to believe in yourself. Believing in your training, because I know that if you have a setback or even compare yourself to others, you can easily become unmotivated. But if you just believe in yourself and you work hard and train hard, then the end is going to pay off.”

This story was originally published on OHS Observer on February 29, 2024.