Mariel Zagunis was the first women’s saber fencer to hold the Olympic title, the first American fencer to win a Gold Metal in a century and the most decorated fencer in the history of USA Fencing. In July, she was nominated to serve as flag bearer for the U.S. delegation at the 2012 Summer Olympics in DREW DAKESSIAN - Mariel Zagunis (right) with Josh Hunt

She is also a native of Beaverton who cross-trains in Southwest Portland.

Zagunis, 27, has been fencing since she was 10 years old when her older brother’s interest in sword fighting prompted their mother to sign them both up for lessons at the club now known as the Oregon Fencing Alliance.

Zagunis trained with three-time world champion Ed Korfanty and went on to win a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, she was determined to be as equipped as possible for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, so she started cross training with strength and conditioning specialist Josh Hunt.

“I was like, I need to do something outside of my fencing training to prepare me for Beijing and then we just met and started working together in 2007, and just have been working together ever since,” she said.

Although Hunt had no previous fencing experience, he did extensive research to pinpoint exactly what a fencer like Zagunis would need from a cross training regimen.

“You have this idea in your mind of what the sport is and you know that they’re carrying a sword…For me, it was more how tournaments were structured, how long points were, the type of movement required to be good at fencing was really what I wanted to know,” Hunt said. “Watching video, talking with Mariel and asking a lot of questions, we figured it all out.”

“It’s not uncommon from the way we’d design a program for another sport,” Hunt added. “We figure out exactly what the athlete is going to be doing within their sport and specifically what the athlete needs.”

“One of the things that I liked about initially working with him is the fact that it wasn’t just a cookie cutter workout for everybody,” Zagunis said. “He really took the time to understand fencing and what I needed and what was going to be beneficial.”

Hunt worked around Zagunis’s rigorous travel schedule, finding time to improve her balance, agility and strength.

After training Zagunis in his garage in West Linn for about a year, Hunt opened the Twist Sport Conditioning Portland, one of five conditioning centers in a franchise spearheaded by former National Hockey League conditioning coach Peter Twist.

“Twist works for me and other athletes as well, because it’s specialized…it’s tailored to exactly what is really going to help you become a better athlete,” Zagunis said.

Twist Portland is located on S.W. Capitol Highway. The building went through many incarnations before Hunt took ownership in 2010.

“We have people come in and ask if they can trade their cards and we can fix their lawn equipment,” Hunt said.

But Twist, he said, is here to stay.

“It’s great. We love the neighborhood and it’s a great space,” Hunt said. “We’re super happy with it; it’s in a good location.”

Zagunis has Olympics in her blood: her parents met while competing with the U.S. rowing team at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Although a favorite to win, she failed to secure her third gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. But being chosen as the flag bearer for Team USA was a victory in itself, as the honor usually goes to athletes of larger sports such as swimming and track.

The U.S. Olympic Committee elected Zagunis partly because they wanted to illustrate how far women have come: This year was the fortieth anniversary of Title IX, a law preventing discrimination against women in athletics. And the 2012 Summer Olympics marked the first time that the 529-athlete Team USA consisted of more women than men.

Zagunis relished the chance to be their ambassador.

“It’s a really big honor to be the one to represent all of those amazing athletes who made that team,” she said. “To be nominated by my fellow American athletes means a lot; walking through the stadium, holding that flag and being the leader of that whole group really meant a lot…it was over way too quickly.”

The experience, however, will stay with her.

“It’s definitely something I’m never going to forget,” Zagunis said. “There’s very few things I think that have happened in my life or that will happen in my life that could ever compare to that.”

After taking a much-needed break, Zagunis will resume training with Hunt and work towards qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. For more information about Twist Portland, call 503-208-3458 or visit

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