Great athletes have an uncanny ability to separate. Separate the moment from their environment, their conscious thoughts from their actions and even one part of their personality from the rest. We recently met up with Liana Henderson Semel a kind and articulate sixteen-year-old, Junior Olympic Silver Medalist in Women’s Foil. Inside the Fencing Academy of Westchester, her home base for training, we spoke about her commitment to fencing, her coaches and teammates, and how singing in a jazz ensemble, doing research in genetics, writing and just being a teenager at Horace Greely High School in Chappaqua, New York all fit together.
Visit the Fencing Academy of Westchester at FenceWestchester.com. Here Head Coach and Director Slava Grigoriev has brought together an incredible international coaching staff filled with former Olympians and World Champions. His program is dedicated to helping all students gain self-confidence, coordination and the focus necessary to realize their full potential as athletes.
Fencing Olympian is Breathing New Passion Into the Hearts, Bodies and Minds of Kids at Darien Fencing Club
Darien is known for having the best of the best in terms of schools, sports teams, real estate and country appeal, but it should also be touted for hosting a club that recognizes fencing as a sport outside of the norm that kids can learn quickly and become passionate about.
Darien Fencing Club provides the opportunity for kids who may not have found their footing on the soccer and baseball fields but who enter the fencing piste and everything feels right.
Darien Fencing Club has been in business since 2010 gaining interest from families in the Darien area who are looking for an activity along with, or outside of, the more traditional field and court sports that their child can be passionate about.
The owner of the club, Jeff Binder started the club as his daughter started climbing the ranks in the sport nationally at a young age and saw how engaging the sport can be. As he saw how happy the sport made his daughter and his other two children, also rising stars in the sport, he wanted to spread the word and love for it in a town where it was not yet available but the demographic for those he knew would have interest were.
Jeff opened the doors with a former world champion and Olympian as coach and awareness is now growing.
It doesn’t look like much when you walk up the stairs to the second floor of Darien Fencing Club’s home at 205 Noroton Ave. But, the energy is buzzing and camaraderie is obvious when you walk in the door of the studio. Kids of all sizes, dressed in traditional fencing garb including chest protector, white protective jacket and pants and helmet with face protector look to be doing something between dancing, tai kwon do and sword fighting.
The kids are attached to wires to allow for scoring as they touch their swords to their competitors. You can see the focus on the kids faces behind the screens as they strategize their next move and you also see the exhaustion in their arms and legs as a bout comes to a close. It’s the perfect combination of physical power and intellectual brain power; a sport both kids and their parents can love.
Jeff has explained that some kids “haven’t found their way in team sports.” But that does not mean they aren’t athletic, aren’t competitive or lack physical drive. Fencing offers an activity that allows for an option for kids who enjoy challenging themselves personally. To pushing their bodies AND their brains.
There is immediate gratification when the buzzer sounds as their sword touches their opponent first. There is impetus to push harder when their opponent scores first. The sport has been referred to as Physical Chess. Each move sets up the next. It’s beautiful to watch and hugely gratifying to play.
Darien Fencing Club has set up their program to work around other activities that kids may be involved in and in a spot extremely convenient for those participating. They are focused on whetting the kids’ appetite when it comes to the sport in a manageable way for the parents. There is a very flexible sign up structure that even allows for a free trial.
The class routine allows for kids at all levels to participate in the same class with more advanced fencers practicing their more complex moves on one another and the coach, and first timers and beginners learning the basics individually and on one another as well.
The club is also connected with the larger fencing outfits to allow for participation in frequent tournaments in the area. In the early weeks of learning the sport, the class may feel more like organized play. Kids leave laughing about the fun they had with swords and looking forward to going back to learn more.
In addition to the weekly classes offered at Darien Fencing Club, they are also working out a summer camp program for more hours of training. Although not an inexpensive sport, the classes end up costing about as much as any other individual private sport such as tennis or golf. When a child signs up for a class ($80.00) they are also eligible for a private lesson to learn the basics before they get started. Siblings get a 25% discount and savings can also be found by signing up for a semester package.
Darien Fencing Club’s core philosophy is that first and foremost, fencing should be fun for kids. There is enough competition in a child’s life as it is, fun needs to be an integral part of the program as well. Children will learn the sport, learn good sportsmanship and most likely will leave their first class hooked.
Sylvie Binder, 13, of Armonk, won the gold medal in the 14-and-under women’s foil at the United States Fencing Association’s Super Youth Circuit fencing tournament held Jan. 5 in Durham, N.H.
Binder, who went into the tournament ranked No. 12 nationally in her age category, bested a field of 61 fencers from all over the country. Her ranking is expected to improve as a result of the win, her father, Jeffrey, said.
Binder’s next test will come at the United States Fencing Association’s North American Cup beginning Jan. 18 in Louisville, where she will compete among older fencers, including several Olympians from the 2012 London Games. In February, she is expected to compete at the USFA’s Junior Olympic competition in Baltimore.
Binder is in the 8th grade at H.C. Crittenden Middle School in Armonk. She trains at the Fencing Academy of Westchester in Hawthorne with coach Slava Grigoriev, a two-time Olympian.
Fencing champion Sylvie Binder with her gold medal. (Jan. 10, 2013)