Goodbye Fencing

I.

At the end of the day, it’s not the activity of fencing itself that has meaning. It is us, the athletes, who give meaning to our sport. So recently I’ve been reflecting on what this sport has meant to me over the past 11 years.

A.

“If I feel hollow, that’s just my proof that there’s more for me to follow.”  —David Wilcox

Fencing has embodied my spirit of self-improvement and competition. Working day in and day out to grow stronger and seeing myself improve bit by bit is the most satisfying thing I can do. Going out on the strip and putting forth a desperate effort to win is the purest form of living I know. And winning itself is the best natural high I’ve ever experienced.

Self-improvement and competition extend beyond the fencing strip, but fencing has been the purest manifestation of my desire to grow stronger and the purest output of my desperate effort. A man I respect once said that many aspects of society are competitive, and athletics is just the most honest about it. That is something I will always appreciate about fencing.

The thing about desperate efforts is that you can fail, and it will hurt. I still remember the point in my gap year when I realized I would not make the Junior World Team and in fact had fallen enough in the standings to not even qualify for the next World Cup. I didn’t feel angry or upset, though there had been plenty of that in the preceding weeks. I just felt empty. I had worked so hard for so long to reach this goal, and it had not come together, and I didn’t know what was next.

Dealing with that disappointment, then getting back in the gym and back to work, was one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do. But my life isn’t over when I fail, no matter how long I’ve dreamed of success. Fencing has hammered this into me over and over, and I am beyond grateful for it.

B.

The only thing better than winning is winning as part of a team. These past four years, the Harvard Fencing Team has been the best team I ever could have asked for. When I came to Harvard, I was an awkward nerd who didn’t have a lot of friends in the fencing community.  Well, I’m still an awkward nerd. But I’ve found my place here on HFT, and that’s what I really care about. I will never forget my time here, nor the people who made it so wonderful.

It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as co-captain for two years. For my teammates to look at me, an unrecruited walk-on, and say “we want you to lead us” (twice) means more to me than any medals I’ve won over my career. My tenure as captain has not been without its challenges. But all those hurdles—managing tensions between hotheads, dealing with a transition to a new coach, and having to face and grow from my own blunders—have only served to make me stronger as I enter the next phase of my life. And that is something else I am grateful to this team for.

Farewell HFT. I’ll be watching next year, but only from the sidelines. It’s time for someone else to take my place.

II.

People have asked me if I’ll come back to fencing. For now, my answer is no. When I leave college, I won’t have a team anymore, and I won’t be able to maintain the level of training required to continue getting better. While I might be able to carry on without my team, fencing is intertwined with my desire to grow stronger. I don’t want to break that connection, to see myself get worse month after month.

Some people tell me that fencing could take on a new meaning in my life. There’s no reason written in the stars that I have to be competitive to fence; why not approach it more casually? Though they are well-intentioned, I think these people are missing the point of my current life transition. The point is not to find a new role for fencing in my life. The point is to find something else that can fill the role that fencing leaves behind.

On that front, I am quite happy with where I’m headed. This fall, I’m starting work at a New York-based quantitative trading firm. I believe there will be plenty of opportunity for me to grow stronger and hone my skills as a trader, and I am excited by how collaborative and team-based my workplace seems to be. And while securities markets aren’t competitive in exactly the same way as fencing, I think there will be plenty there to scratch my competitive itch.

Maybe I’ll feel differently later. Maybe a couple years away from the sport will make me miss it, and I’ll be able to approach it with a different perspective. But for now, I’m content to remember fencing the way it was and to find something new to take up its mantle.

Goodbye fencing. Thank you for everything.

III.

There are a number of people who deserve my sincerest thanks.

Ross Rheingans-Yoo, my inspiration.

Tommy Sirico, my first coach.

Bin Lu. Your decision to start a fencing club in Baltimore gave me a way into fencing.

Adrian Trenea. Your tireless attention to my training helped me take the leap from a good local fencer to nationally competitive.

Jed Dupree. You helped me improve well into college, a time when most fencers fade out.

Matteo Zennaro. You helped me go out on top.

My parents Penny Rheingans and Terry Yoo. You have supported me from the beginning and at every step of my journey.

My grandmother and late grandfather, Sung Ja Yoo and Man Hyong Yoo. You enabled me to reach for my dreams.

The people of the Baltimore Fencing Center and Marx Fencing Academy. No matter how big the stage was, you were always there in my corner, supporting me.

My Harvard fencing teammates. The past four years with you have been the best experience of my life.

All those who have helped me and supported me along the way. There are far too many to name here.

And Michael Marx. You were first person to really believe in the fencer I could become.

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