Ruth Tolkien British National Fencing 2016

British Fencing Senior Nationals 2016

British Fencing Senior Nationals 16/04/16

Arriving almost in the dark at the hotel in East London, having navigated my way (without any hiccups so far!) from home, plus all the fencing kit still intact and not got myself lost on the DLR, I wandered round the car park looking for the way in! As it began to rain I was so exhausted I had no option but to giggle at myself. “This is Bristol all over again!” I thought! “I manage to get all the way here, however many hundred miles, then I can’t find the door!” Five minutes more bumbling and I’d managed to find the right door and check in.

After meeting up with a close friend, we sat in my room after breakfast the next day chatting and re-taping blades having decided not to navigate the DLR back to the venue but share a taxi. As the taxi pulled up I think we both had a rush of adrenaline and for me the thought process began from there.

Having tried as long as I could to see this as ‘any other competition’ as we arrived at the venue I gave up on that mantra! For anyone I think, a step up like this in any situation is going to make you learn a lot about yourself and massively quickly. The numbers of fencers there was probably the first thing that hit me – my only previous experience of so many of us in one place was The Excalibur in Bath last year (and also this year the weekend after the Nationals). As we trundled ourselves and our kit between wires and weapons, around feet and up uneven steps, I noted the ‘smell’ of a competition too.

I realised for the first time that that adds to my adrenaline! Strange or not the smell of the tape on the floor, the wooden floors themselves, the bitter-sweet fencing-only damp kit smell, all of it so subliminally familiar yet for some reason today so intense. As we checked-in I was humbled by the reaction of the staff at the desk who recognised who I was and I didn’t have to explain about my vision. Blushing as one lady sang my praises, I now also have it on authority that I am the only blind fencer to have entered the British Nationals! That did a lot to shoot the adrenaline up a notch!

The hall we were fencing in was at the end of a long, blue (in my mind) corridor from where we make our camp. To my relief the lighting was far less intense in there, although sadly the pistes were carpet and not aluminium – less scope for figuring out opponents’ footwork as clearly, but still. The organisation was as slick as Birmingham but much quicker! Barely had time to get through two Led Zeppelin tracks on the play-list before my friend showed me which piste my poule was on. Piste 21 – it’s stuck in my memory! 6 fights.

Remembering to breathe, just about as I plugged in, I was haunted by the dreaded “what on EARTH am ‘I’ doing here?!?!?”. Battling it away I pushed my shoulders back and down, settled into en guarde position and took a deep breath. “I’m here. Full stop.” I tell my panicking head. The first hit, of my first fight at the first Nationals I’ve been to, was mine! It shocked and delighted me at the same time. I planned it, I set it up, I made it work and (unusually for me) it was an attack, not a point in defence! I’d aimed for at least a point in each poule fight, if not to win one. Sadly, no win but a point or more in most of them. The poules seemed to vanish all too quickly after the initial “why am I here?!” panic. There was just time to catch up with my friend for a brief coffee and to top up the banana-and-dark-chocolate energy before the DE’s were called and we went to find the right piste.

I really did want to win that DE so badly. I poured it all out and gave it every last bit or me. The four points I ended up with I worked my hardest for. Another 11 next year and that would be me into the last 64. We’ll see!

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