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Northwest Fencing Center hosts international camp

Five days of training culminates in new year's competition.


Photo Credit: PHOTOS FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Fencers hone their skills during the Northwest Fencing Centers International Winter Camp.Justin Vogler worked up a sweat as he parried and dodged his opponent’s foil at the Northwest Fencing Center.

“My dream is to be an Olympian,” he said a few minutes later while catching his breath during the Beaverton nonprofit club’s annual International Winter Camp.

The 11-year-old Bethany boy is already in his sixth year of fencing and is a top talent among pre-teens, but he has plenty more training ahead if he hopes to follow in the quick footsteps of another Valley Catholic student, two-time Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis. But he has time: Vogler must wait another two years before he’s old enough to compete at the Junior Olympics.

Vogler discovered the center a half dozen years ago, when he tagged along for his sister’s birthday party held there. What he happened into is somewhat hidden in light-industrial park, but has grown in recent years into one of just a handful of fencing centers producing most of the country’s elite fencers.

“I got really into it,” he said. “That was when I was maybe 4 years old, but you couldn’t fence until you were 5.”

Check It Out

What: Northwest Fencing Center International Winter Camp concludes with a New Year’s Day competition

When: All matches will be held Thursday, Jan. 1. Foil competitions will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude near lunchtime. Epee competitions will begin about noon and continue several hours, depending on the number of entrants.

Where: 4950 S.W. Western Ave., Beaverton.

Who: Anyone can attend. There is no admission charge.

While Zagunis is a sabre fencer affiliated with the Oregon Fencing Alliance, young Vogler specializes in the foil, which along with the epee are the sporting weapons used at the Beaverton club, located at 4950 S.W. Western Ave., near Bi-Mart and Michaels.

The Northwest Fencing Center may not have a current athlete with the same international profile of Zagunis, but it has produced top fencers who have competed successfully at the national and international levels since its founding in the 1950s. Early members Michael and Robert Marx, for example, competed in the Olympics multiple times. More recently, as more U.S. fencers have been among the best in the sport, the center’s athletes have been right there among the top finishers.

“Oregon is the place to be in fencing,” said Christophe Duclos, one of a string of French fencing instructors to lead the center.

Many of the 80 fencers on hand — about equally divided between club members and those attending from across the country and throughout the world — are tuning up for the competition season looming on the new calendar. Several of the local fencers are aiming for the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, to be held in February in Richmond, Va.

Local residents might get a peek at a future medalist on New Year’s Day, when camp participants take part in a day-long competition. The public is invited. There is no admission charge.

Among the hopefuls is Tristan Krueger, 17, of Bend, a senior at Summit High School in Bend who attends camps in Beaverton and last year placed first in epee in the Cadet class at the Junior Olympics, which were held in Portland.

“The biggest thing is to be able to train with the highest level fencers,” Krueger said. He hopes the camp experience again will pay off as he graduates to stiffer competition in the Junior class.

Mari Summers, 16, of Tigard, a sophomore at Tigard High School, has recently tasted some success as a fencer after five years of training and is now ranked eighth among girls in her age class in the foil. She placed 16th at an international competition in Germany and has qualified for the Junior Olympics.

“I did a lot of sports when I was young, but nothing I got drawn to as much as this,” she said. “It’s not just a physical sport, it’s a mental sport.”

The center’s winter camp attracts mostly up-and-coming fencers like Summers, but its gym is sprinkled with a handful of fencers with world-class talent.

Among the elite fencers taking part is Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, a silver medalist in the men’s foil for Egypt in the 2012 Olympic Games. His role in Beaverton is to help coach the next generation. He is close to the Beaverton instructors and has worn the club’s patch on his uniform during international competitions, even though he trains in France and is far better known in Alexandria, where he is a hometown hero as one of his country’s two medalists at the most recent Games.

“This is my place,” he said of the Beaverton club.

Duclos said the Oregon Fencing Center’s nonprofit program is vastly different from the way most fencers train on the other side of the country, where private East Coast instructors charge exorbitant fees in what is largely a rich person’s sport.

Not that fencing isn’t expensive in Beaverton. Pupils spend about $400 per month for their instruction at the center, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of thousands top fencers pay for the international travel and pricey equipment necessary to compete at a high level, Duclos said.

The center raises money to help promising students who couldn’t otherwise afford the training and travel costs, he said. Some earn scholarships to major universities.

Duclos said their program also works in a more collaborative way than many fencing schools, even though its students may eventually face each other representing different countries.

“You never improve if you stay in your bedroom and hide your secrets,” he said.

Their approach has paid off, so much so that Duclos said the organization is now considering an expansion that will add training space to the sometimes-cramped quarters. The exact plans aren’t settled, he said.

“We are big enough for regional events, but we’re not big enough for national events,” which can attract up to 1,000 athletes, he said. “This is our next goal to become a real big national center.”

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