Get to know… Olympic fencer Dima Chumak
DARIEN — For a few hours every Sunday, the second floor of the Darien VFW building on Noroton Avenue is transformed into a studio for the Darien Fencing Club.
At a recent session, two pairs of crouching young fencers, dressed in face masks and chest protectors, squared up. The junior swordsmen shuffled forward and back strategically. Each waited with sword-arm outstretched for the opportunity to strike with a lunge of the blunted blade, before retreating to ward off the opponent’s counter attack.
The back-and-forth clinking of metal swords was overseen by Dima Chumak — a former Olympian and member of the Ukrainian National fencing team — who stooped his 6-foot-3 inch frame to illustrate matters of form and technique, or — as in one instance — console a student at the receiving end of a well-executed jab.
It was near the conclusion of seven-year-old Robert Evanchik’s first lesson when an older classmate sprang forward and, with a thrust of his weapon, connected with Evanchik’s chest protector. Evanchik, surprised by the suddenness of the strike, began to well up with tears. Chumak propelled into action and calmed the boy with defensive instruction and words of encouragement.
As a consequence of the pep-talk, those tears were short-lived.
Seemingly unfazed by the recent blow, Evanchik regrouped and squared with his much larger opponent, who met the first-timer in the middle of the combat area to begin again.
“Ready, fence,” the older boy declared.
Evanchik’s mother, Susan Kindle, who was observing the lesson, had heard about the fencing club from a friend of Robert’s.
“I didn’t know much about fencing,” said Kindle, who added that Evanchik participates in a lot of team sports. “It seems like a good one-on-one sport. It’s almost like a chess game.”
The strategic nature of fencing, Chumak explained, has to do with a need to control one’s footwork and one’s blade, as well as the distance from one’s opponent, in order to protect the body and set up offensive opportunities. A buzzer sounds and points are won when the compressed tip of a blade makes contact with an adversary’s padding.
According to Chumak and Jeffrey Binder, a New York attorney who opened the club a decade ago after his children showed a proclivity for the sport, interest in fencing is on the rise in America.
“For sure, it’s a very big increase in popularity, even since 10 years ago,” said Chumak, though the sport’s popularity in this country does not yet rival that in his native Ukraine. Some of that escalating interest, Chumak suggested, may have to do with parents realizing the value that a background in fencing adds to a young person’s college application.
“It’s very good for not just your arms, legs and brain,” Chumak explained. “A lot of good colleges have fencing.” Former students of his have gone on to compete at Columbia and Cornell. Binder’s daughter, Sylvie, a hopeful for the 2020 Olympics, was recently accepted to Columbia on a fencing scholarship.