The Worth of Risk:
A Personal Report on the 2022 World Veteran Championships in Zadar.
I’ve just finished my first saber bout at the 2022 World Veteran Championships in Zadar, Croatia and it didn’t go well. I lost. Even worse, it was to the only other woman from any country (other than the US) that I knew, Beth Davidson of Great Britain. I believe she is one of the last saber fencers that I competed against long ago, when I used to compete internationally. How ironic to see her in my first bout, here in Croatia. She hasn’t changed a bit, except for her fencing, which is unfortunately for me, better than I had remembered.
“Geez, if this is a foreshadow for today, it’s not looking good,” I thought.
Just getting to World Championships felt like an anxiety filled, never ending episode of TV reality show, The Amazing Race. I had actually considered not going. Packing up and jaunting over to Croatia seemed like something I just couldn’t make happen. For starters, what to do with my 4 still at home kids (the 5th one is at college) plus Spanish exchange student? What to do with my club if I leave and take the only other coach (MY coach) Mark Stasinos, with me? I didn’t know if I could really spare all the energy that goes into the risk/opportunity of a World Championship. Tickets to Croatia were over $1000 each. Budgeting, piano lessons, homework and groceries filled my angst list from August through September. Then there was the actual training to consider. At Summer Nationals, I had enlisted the help of WEASK, Inc. with Jeremy Summers (a former elite fencer and USA Trainer) to go over my profile and target weaknesses that we might be able to strengthen. It’s a delicate balance, however, to train enough to be at your best but not so much that one causes injury getting out of bed in the morning. Who knows if that mysterious injury will appear the morning of the event? (Spoiler: That happened.)
As I inched closer and closer to our departure date, I began having unpleasant flashbacks to my competition days almost a quarter of a century earlier as I trained to make the 2000 Olympic team. It was very stressful and lonely back then and I had vowed to myself that I would never make my passion into my nightmare like that ever again. I wanted fencing to be for me and not for medals or for anyone else’s approval. But here I was, doing that very thing,...again. If only Championships were in Utah. Maybe the risk would be more believable.
We planned our arrival into Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, for almost a week ahead of time. This was only possible now in my 50s. Back in my 20s, staying for that long would have been out of the question, with hotel and food costs. Back then, I was sleeping in airports and on random people’s furniture in Europe when things got too expensive. I honestly don’t even know how I survived. But now, I was making plans to stay at resort hotels and drive down through scenic Croatia, with my husband and my coach. After 20 years as a state-side Mom of 5, this was so much change, and it felt a bit vomitous.
We arrived in Croatia after a long but easy flight. Part one of the competition before the competition (the “can I survive the travel” challenge) was complete. The country is fairly modern and actually pretty easy to navigate. The roads are long and winding through dense forest and over steep cliffs, just like in a Grimms Brother Fairy tale. The homes that are scattered throughout the countryside are often littered with bullet holes from the conflicts that happen in this part of the world. The people walk (not drive) a lot. Although they are inclined to mind their own business, they are always friendly, even to perplexed Americans who don’t understand that America is the only place that provides road trip bathrooms, free of charge. This is a European reality despite the copious amount of coffee. The weather is perfect and Mark, Rich (my husband) and I decide to visit two castles and an abandoned Sanitorium as homage to Mark’s favorite show, “Ghosthunters” which we always end up watching at NACs. Finally, we drove into the coastal town of Zadar. The hotel is right on the water and there are cobblestones, palm trees and yachts all around.
The day before the competition is filled with administrative activities like weapons control, check in and the most stressful: Covid Testing. All coaches, spectators and athletes must be rapid-tested 24 hours before their first event. It’s nothing less than horrifying to travel halfway around the world on an enclosed airship with hundreds of other sickly folks and then take a Covid test up the nose. All your hopes and effort ride on one q-tip, applied to each nostril, for 10-15 seconds. I passed. Luckily, (or whatever) I had caught Covid in Texas at an SYC one month earlier and I have never been so grateful for “tournament flu” in all my life. Part 2 of the “competition before the competition” was resolved successfully. I am one of the lucky ones though, and there were a few who didn't make it through. I have nothing but absolute sympathy for those folks. It would have been a difficult moment to deal with if things had turned out poorly for me then. I was reminded of so many athletes who suffered similar disappointment before the last Olympics. These last few years have been so hard on everyone, it makes the small triumphs (such as Covid testing) feel like a Herculean feat.