Fencing your way to fitness
Lake Oswego's Cheryl Maslen uses saber to defeat 'middle age pattern'
The torpor of middle age, accompanied by weight gained and fitness lost, is a challenge faced by just about everybody.
But Cheryl Maslen of Lake Oswego overcame this challenge in a unique way: She took up fencing. The 57-year-old Maslen took it up so well that she won the silver medal in the saber at the 25th Oregon State Games of 2011.
The medal was an excellent affirmation of Maslen's decision to regain physical fitness. And she has excelled while doing it.
'I was very physically active as a young woman,' she said. 'I played competitive squash and I was on a climber rescue team. Somehow I got away from that after going to grad school and starting my career (as a geneticist at OHSU).
'I let it all drift away and started putting on weight. It was the typical middle age pattern. I finally realized I really couldn't continue it.'
The trouble was that Maslen's early efforts at getting fit did not pay off, and she was not really satisfied with her progress. Weight was slow to come off, and her fun meter was low too.
That is until three years ago when a fencing master showed up to give a program at Maslen's athletic club and gained her avid attention.
'I was just fascinated,' she said. 'I just picked up on it from the very beginning and started taking private lessons from Charles Randall. It was just so much fun.'
But Maslen was overawed at the start.
She said, 'At my very first lesson I saw a 72-year-old woman fencing, and I thought, 'I'll never be able to do that.''
Maslen was wrong. First off, she lost 40 pounds.
'All the good stuff that everyone says happens really did happen for me,' Maslen said. 'I started eating breakfast for the first time in my life. I lost 10 pounds just by eating right.'
Then she became a fine fencer, mainly because of her mental strength. She did not let herself become discouraged.
Most people think of fencing as Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone chasing each other over tables, chairs and stairs in swashbuckling movies. That was not what Maslen discovered, but she found fencing to be just as exciting.
'The mental game is what fencing is all about,' she said. 'The challenge really intrigued me. With fencing, your attention has to be there 100 percent of the time. If it wanders a moment, you've lost the point.'
When Maslen started competing three years ago she lost and she lost big.
'I entered the War of the Roses Fencing Tournament,' Maslen said. 'I was a disaster. I was like a deer in the headlights. But you've got to leave your ego at the door and know you're learning something every time you're out there.
'I knew I was getting better when I finished in the middle of the pack at the summer nationals last year. It was huge improvement. I was dead last the previous time.'
Crucial to Maslen's eventual success was the outstanding coaching of Randall and the nurturing atmosphere of the PDX Fencing Club in Beaverton. With so many young national champions, the club could be a nest of prima donnas. Instead, everyone has been extremely supportive of Maslen.
Next up for Maslen is the Battle in Seattle at the end of this month. But she is thinking even bigger.
'My goal is to be on the Women's World Club Team in my age group,' she said.