My very first pair of fencing shoes, the beautiful Nike zooms that only lasted a year, was my introduction to fencing. At age seven I still had no real clue as to what it was all about. It would sometimes be laced on for fencing practice here and there, but it was never able to witness the obstacles I faced or leave a lasting impression. In its final days it resembled a shoe almost as good as new with barely any usage. I had treated them like a nice new toy never wanting to get them dirty only to grow out of them soon after the purchase. I cared more about these couple hundred-dollar shoes than my progression as a fencer.
As I reluctantly traded in my 2 sizes too small wasted pair, I moved on to my next fencing shoes, the Kobe NXT 360s. These were the most memorable of my shoes. Through every competition and through every practice, they stuck with me. Every scratch and every hole showed my perseverance and failure. It was my first pair of shoes to enter a tournament with me and the first to leave with a crushing near last place. I would go to tournaments for up to 5 hours and perform poorly then go to school the next day and get a B on a test as a result of the lack of studying. It seemed as though I wasn’t progressing in either education or the sport. If I didn’t excel at something I loved and if I didn’t excel at something I needed to be good at in order to become successful, then who was I? I often asked myself this question never quite finding an answer or at least a satisfying one. I felt lost and was given an ultimatum by my parents but more importantly by myself. At my last chance to earn a fencing rating, I laced up my Kobe’s and soared through each bout with built up eagerness for victory fueling my ascent. In one of the most defining 5 hours my life, I placed top 10, earning my first rating. It was a crucial moment for me that made me feel true self-worth for the first time.
There were definitely times when I have won but there have been far more times when I’ve fallen to the bottom with no hope for progression. Every loss, my shoes have been there to show how hard I’ve tried and how hard I’ve practiced since. They’ve taught me sportsmanship, acceptance of all outcomes of every bout, never giving up, and always adding new scars to the collection. They gave me tenacity and I always left a piece of the chewed-up rubber on the metal floors with no regret. Through my very first competitions, I could rely on them even earning my beginning ratings but as time went on, the once colorful fabric had begun to fade. The torn rubber soles had formed holes through the bottom and as my feet grew, so did my fighting spirit and level.
I outgrew my first pair of true fencing shoes that had for the first time traveled out of state for competitions and experienced all the ups and downs along with me. I then went on to my third and current pair of shoes, the Nike Metcon 5s. After just 6 months of usage, they had become my most beat up shoes by far showing how hard I trained and how much more serious I had become about my passion. I was always one of the last in the club and often chose practice instead of having fun with my friends or playing video games. In all the tournament stadiums I entered, I was always proud of my most destroyed shoes in the room and especially when I wore them on the podium of my very first 1st place finish. As the prolonging bouts went from top 16 to semi-finals and eventually finals, every bone and muscle in my body told me to collapse to the floor. The only thing that stood firm was my will to win and my trusty Metcon 5s. My gold medal wasn’t the only thing that brought me joy that day but also the sign it gave me that all my extra hours and given-up Fridays had finally amounted to something. By overcoming the temptation of instant gratification with my friends, I had invested in my future and accomplished one of my long-term goals. The level of damage done to my shoes became a measure of skill for me. No matter what happened in each bout, my shoes were there to hold me up. I laced them up with confidence and never took them off without taking a few bruises. I felt that I had finally become worthy enough to call myself a fencer and found a place in the fencing community. I had finally reached the expectations of my family and friends. Their undivided support played a big part in my improvement but what gave me the most backing were my remarkable Metcons. Attached to me as if they were my very own feet, these Metcons never gave up, shaping me to become more ambitious with each point I scored. These Metcons propelled me forward, teaching me rewards of hard work and allowing me to reap the fruits of my labor. These Metcons supported my heavy feet, lightening each step and each advance furthering my journey.
My path through fencing and life has been reflected through my shoes, outgrowing my previous ones as I grew physically and beating them up as I grew mentally. New fencing shoes are unbeaten and have never encountered any battle. They are just a part of millions of other shoes in their unopened boxes with no stories or experiences. All the ripped threads, torn cloths, tattered holes signify something to me and the work I have put into this amazing sport. They are unique to my experiences as a fencer and my troubles as a person. I don’t know what my next pair will be, but I believe in having the most beat up shoes on the strip; I believe in my fencing shoes.
2020-11-02 at 11:01 AM
The shoes make the fencer
2020-11-02 at 11:39 AM
I liked your article Gus. You’re not only a good fencer you’re also a good writer!
2020-11-02 at 11:54 AM
Great piece on the importance of hard work and perseverance! And that new isn’t best, lived in equals loved in.
2020-11-02 at 1:42 PM
A terrific story of perseverance with thoughtful insights for someone your age. It was especially powerful when you finally felt you could call yourself a fencer. You should be very proud of yourself—where you’ve come from and where you are going. Keep dreaming of what is ahead!
2020-11-02 at 3:16 PM
Thanks for sharing! You’re Amazing Gus!
2020-11-02 at 3:18 PM
What a great article! Fantastic way to measure all your hard work, determination and grit that has gone into your sport by looking at something as simple fencing shoes.
2020-11-02 at 4:12 PM
Thanks for sharing your story with us! I enjoyed reading it, and it was very captivating.