Striving for the Olympic Games Parkdale resident and sabre fencer proves that dedication pays off

Nine years ago, Parkdale resident Marissa Ponich didn’t know much about sabres, a cavalry weapon used on horseback long ago.

Andrew Rusheleau, Ponich’s then-boyfriend (now husband) introduced her to sabre fencing when she was attending the University of Alberta. She came to love the sport under the guidance of coach Sergei Kazimirski, founder of Sergei’s Sabre Club.

Today she’s one of the top women’s sabre fencers in Canada.

Ponich was 19 years old when she started to practice the sport, a decade older than most. “I’ve had to work hard,” she admitted. “I wouldn’t say I have a natural talent. I try to focus on the techniques I need to fix.”

Her training schedule is intense. She trains two to three times per day, six days per week. A typical day starts with yoga before work as a City of Edmonton clerk. At lunch, she heads to the gym for cross training and physical preparation, which generally includes activities such as plyometrics, jumps, squats, and sprinting. After work, she’s fencing at the club for two to three hours.

Her dedication has paid off. Ponich has been a national team member since 2013, representing Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games and at World Championships for the past three seasons. Some of the countries she has competed in include Canada, Venezuela, France, USA, Mexico, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Hungary, China, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Chile. Belgium, Italy, and Korea are ahead this spring.

Her goal for 2016 is to qualify for this August’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The push is on until April, the deadline for all Olympic qualifying events.

“I knew qualifying would be hard work, but I’m going to push until the last minute,” said Ponich. No matter what happens, she plans to continue fencing until 2020.

Unlike épée (heavier fencing sword) and foil fencers, sabre fencers score using not only the tip of the weapon but also the cutting edge of the blade.

As her coach Kazimirski explained, the challenges are mental, technical, and physical. “To understand fencing, you need to understand that the movement is quick and instant. To win, you must be coordinated, think clearly, and be accurate in your technique, as well as in peak physical shape.”

As for Ponich, Kazimirski observed, “She’s smart and incredibly hard working, strong, and a positive person. She sees the good side to find something positive in her development and not repeat mistakes.”

Ponich does not receive any funding, so she relies on her full-time job and sponsorships for financial support. The City of Edmonton has been a strong supporter, allowing her to co-ordinate her annual vacation with her competitions. “My co-workers are supportive, always wishing me well,” said Ponich.

Another solution has been crowdfunding though the MAKEACHAMP website (https://makeachamp.com/mponich).

“Crowdfunding is good for me, not only financially but also for the emotional support. It’s great to know that so many people support me to become the best fencer I can be,” she said.

Winning competitions is not the only satisfaction. At the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Ponich met Brenna, a young girl attending the event. They had their photo taken together and Ponich gave her a pin from the Games. Brenna’s father, Paul, sent Ponich a Facebook message that included a video of Brenna thanking her for the pin and explaining that she was going to start fencing. He reported that both Brenna and her sister are taking fencing lessons.

“I helped inspire these girls to start fencing,” Ponich said proudly, “and that is incredible.”

Constance’s writing and editing career spans more than 40 years. She lives in Parkdale-Cromdale.

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