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 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.