I wished you didn’t come back, but I’m really glad you did

One of my passions is fencing.

The summer before my freshman year in HS, the Olympics were happening in Barcelona. I happened to see a clip of a fencing match on TV and I fell in love. It turned out that my HS had a team (1 of only 19 schools in the state at the time) and as soon as the sign-ups came around I joined. I loved it. I loved the pace. I loved how I had learn to control my body in new ways. I loved looking through mesh at an opponent squared up against me. And, I was terrible. Now, that’s not the right word. What word would you use to describe someone worse than terrible? My team was small and my coach was committed to the idea that everyone gets to play no matter what. My freshman year I was 0-17 and I think I scored a total of 5 points all season (for those not in the know, each match is out of 5 points so I was out scored 85-5). My coach, my entire team, even I knew that if I was getting put into the meet, it was an automatic loss for that bout.

My horrendous record didn’t deter me. My sophomore year was an improvement. I started to purchase my own equipment and the coach saw my dedication so gave me more bouts to fence. I still lost 17 times, but I won 12! My confidence was growing so I began taking lessons at a private fencing club. My parents drove me 30 minutes each way for a 20 minute lesson and began shleping me to tournaments.

I think going to tournaments was the biggest break for me. My junior year was actually successful. I was 36-12 for the season. My name was starting to be talked about on other teams and by other coaches. When I would head to tournaments I was actually making it passed the first round. I even traveled to other states for tournaments. I think the day I got my license my parents celebrated, not for my accomplishment, but because I could drive myself to all of my fencing events.

Senior was by far my best year. I finished the year 40-5, setting the school record for best record (beaten by my teammate 1 week later) and was untouched in 2 different meets (that means I outscored my opponents 15-0, twice!) which was another school record (also tied by teammate the following week). I qualified and competed at the Junior Olympics taking 76th in the country. My fencing, I believe, helped me get into college where I fenced for another 2 years before my knees decided they were done.

Now, this story is actually not about me. It’s about my HS coach, Mr. Thomas. During my senior year, Mr. Thomas fell on some ice and shattered his wrist. He missed 3 months of school, 2 of which was during the fencing season. I immediately took over as coach, running practices, organizing line-ups, and helping younger fencers. After the fencing banquet in my senior year, where I won the Coach’s Award, my coach pulled me aside and told me something that I will never forget. He said that after my freshmen year, I was so bad, that he secretly hoped that I would not return to the team the following year. But, he never told me how he felt. He said that I needed to decide for myself if I was either going to continue to be terrible or work hard to improve. He said, ‘I wished you didn’t come back, but I’m really glad you did.’

There are a lot of lessons educators teach that have nothing to do with a curriculum. Mr. Thomas treated me fairly and gave me the same chances he gave to his star players. He saw that I was passionate, hard working, and played with heart. He gave me the support I needed to grow as a fencer.

Thank you, Mr. Thomas!

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