Friday, January 14, 2011

Here I stand, with a sword in my hand

I can't remember I time when I didn't want to fence. One of my earliest memories, in fact, is of drawing z's all over the walls of my house, pretending I was Zorro, wishing I could hear the blade flick through the air.

My last Nationals was my worst competition ever. The bad started seven months before, when I got hit by a car, and cracked cartilage in my hip. There was no way I wasn't competing - I had qualified as part of a team for my club, and I wasn't letting them down. So I did MRIs and intense physical therapy. I got massages, ice baths, and regular cortisone injections (you know, the kind of thing that puts baseball players on the disabled list. My orthopedic surgeon drew smily faces on my ass in purple ink to mark where the needle had to pass between the bones, and laughed when I cursed at him.). And I trained.

And we went to Nationals. The day of the team competition started badly - I had a terrible fight with my then-husband, and spent most of the warm-up period vomiting in the ladies room. I had, for the first and only time in my life, a blade break, actually snap in two, during a bout. I could not get my shit together. My coaches, quite rightly, pulled me, and put in an alternate. We were fencing for bronze and she got hurt, so I had to go back in, and of course, of course, the club we were competing against was my old club. I could not stand up to the psychological weight of that. We didn't medal. I don't even remember the individual event.

But it would okay. I was in the best shape of my life, and the ending of one competitive season meant nothing except the beginning of the next one. Except. In my first tournament back, I tore a hamstring. Once I recovered from that, next tournament, my shoulder was dislocated. My right shoulder. Training through the first injury, the hip, instead of stopping and treating it, letting it heal, had put strange stresses on the rest of my body, and the time had come to pay the piper.

I retired.

I hated it.

I hated not training, not competing. I missed the way fencing made me think. It had been part of my life for decades, and then it was gone. There wasn't a day I didn't miss it.

Five years later, I came out of retirement briefly. But I was writing then, and I write by hand, and I was writing a dissertation as well as fiction, and my shoulder, well, it's barely worthy of the name. When I could no longer hold a foil en guarde, I stopped training. Again.

There is a foil in the corner of my office right now. Beautiful. Maraging steel. Visconti grip, made for my hand. Hand wired. When I need to think, I run through bladework drills. I can hit a quarter taped to the wall 100 times in a row. Blindfolded. I've been building my strength back up, doing physical therapy. It hurts. I hate it. But I love it, too, because tonight, the pain finally felt clean. Not poisoned, but like there was possibility on the other side. 

Like some day, I might be a swordswoman again. Please God. Because I am my best, my realest self, with a sword in my hand.


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  3. Sigh, spelling was right the first time...

    May you find your six-fingered man.

  4. I completely understand. Well, not the bit about the sword, maybe, but the dreadful fallibility of bodies and the irreplaceable rightness of physical vocation... That I get for sure.

    I am hoping, very much, that you are on the way to getting it all back. Maybe when I finally get to visit (this year, I promise!), I'll get to watch you in swordswoman mode!

  5. Joseph: Thank you. Princess Bride references always make me happy. And you needn't worry about spelling - I can't either.

    Megan: Yes, stupidly fallible bodies. Injuries make me understand why magic requires will, rather than anything else. Thank you.

  6. Gah, I typed out this really long comment (complete with a reference to the Princess Bride scene where Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya fight), and then blogspot ate it.

    Let's try again.

    It is absolutely terrible to be unable to do something because your body won't cooperate. It's like being unable to tap into a part of who you are. On a different scale, and in a smaller way, I understand that feeling. And it's not a fun one.

    I hope that you're able to build your strength back up. That you'll be able to enjoy that part of yourself again. I have a feeling that you are a force to be reckoned with, Kat -- with and without that sword. For what it's worth, I'm rooting for you. :-)


  7. Thanks Ali. (Silly blogspot, eating your post.) I really appreciate the support. Especially since the blog made you type it twice. :)

  8. Forgive me my professional deformation, but I would love for you to use this material in a book some day. Being a competitive fencer at that level, I mean. (I know you *do* use it in one of your current novels, but I'm actually thinking of a realist -*gasp*- book set completely in this world).

    The thing is, not many people get to experience this kind of thing - the big competitions with so much at stake, the intense training, dealing with this high level of performance and ability, and also with injuries. And it's fascinating! It's a book I would like to read, and if I had the experience to be able to write it I would, but I don't.

    I hope that, with the help of patience and physical therapy, you'll recover your strength!

  9. A *realist* novel?! Maybe if it wrote it left-handed...

    Seriously, I think it would have to be "some day." I'm too close to the world of the sport right now to have the distance that I would need to write that story.

    Although there were some characters - the Ukrainian who wore bright blue briefs under his knickers for every tournament, comes to mind.

  10. One of the goals I have in mind when I renovate my home office is to open it up enough so that when the urge strikes, I can do a few fleches and work through all the guards.

    I'd also like to get myself a schlager-bladed training rapier some day. I had one back in college, and wound up selling it to someone else. Definitely unhappy about that.