Published: July 14, 2013
It all started with a demonstration in Helen Landwehr's sixth grade drama class.
A couple of kids from Front Range Fencing Club came to Landwehr's school and performed a stage fighting fencing routine. After that, she was hooked.
"I used to really like drama and so I decided that it might be good to know something about fencing in case I could get a part for stage combat," Landwehr said. "And then I turned out really liking the sport rather than acting and drama."
That was four years ago.
Landwehr, who just completed her freshman year at Air Academy High School, recently placed third in her division at summer nationals and captured first place in the Colorado Cup. She also earned her class B rating at summer nationals, the second highest rating in the sport.
She competes with in epee, one of three weapons used in fencing. With the epee, a fencer can score by hitting any part of their opponent's body with the tip of the weapon.
After the class demonstration, Landwehr, now 15, and a friend began training with Front Range Fencing once a week.
After the first year, her friend decided to stop going to practice, leaving a shy Landwehr with a difficult decision.
"I didn't know if I wanted to go if I didn't have anyone to talk to, so I thought, 'well I can work harder if there's no one to talk to, so it kind of worked out,'" she said. "Now I have a lot of new friends in the club."
Since deciding to stay with the sport, Landwehr has become one of the club's most dedicated members. She attends every practice - biweekly during the summer and four times a week during the school year - and does additional training on her own time.
"She's worked really hard," her mother, Denise Landwehr said. "She'll go jogging on her own on the weekends, pushups on her own. She works on conditioning on her own. She was really serious from the beginning, whatever the coaches recommended, she was the first one to make sure she was working on it."
Though Helen Landwehr is a young fencer, head coach of Front Range Fencing, Kathryn Lewis-Salem said that her best attribute is her patience.
"You can't just always wait, but you have to wait for the right time," Lewis-Salem said. "You have to time your attack at the right time. A lot of young people just don't have that patience. They can only hold it for so long and then they have to go and get a hit. By far, at her age right now, that's one of the real big plusses."
For Landwehr, part of the attraction to fencing is the sport's longevity. Unlike most sports, fencing has a much longer shelf life, and people often compete well into adulthood.
Salem-Lewis said that many people express interest in fencing because they believe it's a beautiful art form, and though a background in dance can help with the footwork, the sport is far from simply being a form of artistic expression.
"It's a combat sport, it's not a dance by any means," Lewis-Salem said. "There's a lot of people that see it as a beautiful art. It's a martial sport, just like karate, just like taekwondo or boxing."
Landwehr understands this concept, and added that fencing is not only a physical sport, but it's also one that is emotionally and mentally involved.
"My coach told me that fencing losses are the hardest losses," she said. "You get beat emotionally and spiritually because if you were with actual swords they would have killed you. You get beat mentally because they've outsmarted you and you get beat physically because they were harder, faster, stronger than you.
"So it's hard to think on all three levels that they've bested you. I like that and it makes it more competitive and more exciting."
Landwehr did eventually get a shot to use her fencing skills in stage combat. Two years after seeing the demonstration, Landwehr and another fencer from her club choreographed and performed a staged fencing routine in her eighth grade production of the "Canterbury Tales."
But by that time, Landwehr said, her focus had already shifted from acting to the sport.
"I just kind of figured fencing can take me farther," she said, "and it can be more fun because there's a lot more that I can work at."
And after accomplishing so much in only four years of fencing, Landwehr has high hopes for her next three years and beyond, including fencing on a collegiate level and a world team berth.
"It's doable," she said of her goals. "It's a long ways off and it's going to take a lot of hard work. It's not going to be easy by any means, but I really want it so I think I can get there."