Aug. 25, 2021

Dueling with heroes: Active Living summer campers spar with Olympic fencers

Fresh from Tokyo 2020, two national team fencers drop in on the Mini Musketeers to offer advice and challenge them to some lighthearted battles
Complete with full gear, electronic scoring, and officials Olympic fencers Alanna Goldie and Kelleigh dueled with kids in Active Living's fencing summer camp.
Complete with full gear, electronic scoring, and officials, Olympic fencers Alanna Goldie and Kelleigh duel with kids in Active Living's fencing camp. Logan Jones, Active Living, Faculty of Kinesiology.

Youngsters enrolled in Mini Musketeers knew what was coming.

So when Peter Drevenka, instructor of the introductory fencing camp offered by the University of Calgary's Active Living program, announced, "This is the moment you've been waiting for," there was enthusiastic cheering.

As advertised, Alanna Goldie and Kelleigh Ryan, world-class fencers freshly returned from the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, marched into the Gold Gym on a Friday afternoon in August.

The kids would get a chance to meet their heroes, watch them compete in an exhibition, and, yes, actually fence against them. Hence the unmistakable buzz from the group.

Opportunities like this are no small thing

"You can see how far you can go with a sport, whether it's fencing or something else," said Drevenka, head coach at the Epic Fencing Club. "You see these people and they started just like you, maybe in a summer camp. Their goal was to get to the Olympics and they achieved this goal.

"It takes a lot of years and it's a roller-coaster ride, right? But the kids see this path, 'Hey, I can do that, too.'"

Fencing is one of more than 70 summer camps offered by Active Living, which, in a typical year, draws as many as 11,000 kids to the UCalgary campus.

"We're trying to be leaders in life-long active living," said Logan Jones, youth programs manager of Active Living. "We're looking to introduce kids into physical activity, then retain them for life, really."

Time will tell how many fencing careers were launched by this display.

Olympic fencers Alanna Goldie (left) and Kelleigh Ryan fenced with Mini Musketeers from Active Living's summer camp.

Olympians fencers Alanna Goldie (left) and Kelleigh Ryan fenced with Mini Musketeers from Active Living's summer camp

Logan Jones, Active Living, Faculty of Kinesiology.

The campers enjoyed being introduced to Ryan, who finished eighth in the individual women's foil in Tokyo, and Goldie, who was a member of the Canadian squad that placed fifth in the women's foil team competition — Canada's highest ever finish.

The kids were intrigued by the Pan-Am Games gold medal, won by Ryan and Goldie in 2015, that got passed around. And their attention was certainly grabbed when the elite visitors began to battle each other only feet from where they sat.

"The in-person experience, it's always good," said Drevenka. "And watching sport live? From this far away? It's great for the kids."

David vs. Goliath duels 

But when the youngsters got to square off against Goldie and Ryan in genuine duels — with full gear, electronic scoring, and officials — how could they not be thrilled?

"Very exciting," said Melissa Wang, 12. "A once in a lifetime opportunity, so it was really cool."

The week-long camp taught Salvador Hernandez Berron to appreciate the subtleties of fencing strategy, how there's a defensive parry for every offensive gambit. He tried to show Goldie his range of newfound skills. "It was very exciting, although I knew I was going to lose," said the 11-year-old, grinning. "But I almost got a few points."

By the end of the afternoon's session, with the phones of parents capturing much of the action, most of the campers had taken a crack at both Olympians.

A nostalgic experience for the Olympians

When asked about the scene, children having a blast while trying to get the hang of something new, the guests chuckled at the familiarity of it all.

Ryan got her start in a summertime fencing program at the University of Ottawa. Years later, she taught at those same camps.

"It was very nostalgic and very cool to see," she said. "I was trying to give them little bits of advice they could grasp on to."

Goldie, whose big sister Brita fenced at UCalgary, got into the sport when she was eight years old. Soon enough, she was getting to meet Olympians.

"You see that they're just normal people," said Goldie. "I started in a gym just like this one. It's not that far out of reach for little kids. It's cool to now be that person that they can look at and say, 'Well, if she did it, I can, too.'"

Learn more about Active Living

Fencing is a unique activity offered at the UCalgary Summer Camp, Mini Musketeers, in partnership with Epic Fencing. Nearly 1,200 participants have come through the program over the last seven years.

The University of Calgary Active Living offers many different programs throughout the year. Individuals can discover their own unique path to get moving here