My Movement: How Fencing Became My Favourite Way To Stay Fit

"You need to get out of the house and make time for yourself"

Annemarie Sullivan is a board member of the National Governing Body Fencing Ireland, and the chairwoman of Women in Fencing.

Were you always into fitness?

I was an active child and teenager, doing vaulting (acrobatics on horseback) for many years. But after I stopped doing that, I couldn’t really find anything that interested me until I found fencing.

How did you first find fencing?

I was looking for a new challenge and wanted to try something completely different like a combat sport. So I enrolled in an 8-week beginners fencing course for adults, and absolutely loved it. That was 10 years ago, and I stuck with it.

For anyone who doesn’t know, what exactly is fencing?

Fencing is a sport where two competitors at a time use sporting swords to score points – typically 5, 10 or 15 – within a set time. There are three different disciplines in fencing, each using a different type of sword and each with their own specific rules – foil, épée, and sabre.

It’s a very safe sport, the swords aren’t sharp, and you aren’t really trying to stab each other. Fencers score points and win matches when the blunt tip of their sword merely touches their opponent. Each point is registered electronically. We also wear plenty of protective clothing- like the mesh masks, chest protectors, padded vests and gloves.

What do you love most about fencing?

What’s better than making friends while exercising, and you also get to stab people for fun?! [laughs] Fencing is not only technical and tactical – it is a dynamic and fun sport that brings out the competitive fighter in you! The sport offers something for everyone: youth and school events, university competitions, senior competitions, and veteran events (fencers over the age of 40).

Personally, I love that moment, when you put on all your gear, put on the mask and plug in your weapon. Then your focus shifts and you transform from: ‘Annemarie, the worker/wife/mother’ to ‘Annemarie, the fencer’. And you only focus on your movement, your opponent and how to win the next point. It’s awesome.

Do you think there are any misconceptions about fencing?

I think the sport is sometimes perceived to be exclusive and expensive. However, the social scene in Irish fencing is very vibrant – there are clubs around the country, each with lots of courses and events, and everyone is very supportive. As a beginner, you don’t need to invest in gear, because the clubs will provide everything. And once you decide to fence for longer, your own gear and weapons will last for a long time. I still have my mask that I’ve bought 10 years ago!

How do you stay motivated?

Whenever I don’t want to get up from the couch to go to training, especially in the dark winter months, I remind myself that I have never regretted going to a training session. Especially as a woman, you need to get out of the house and make time for yourself, practice a new skill, and exercise to stay fit and healthy.

And also chat and laugh with others. After an evening of being active, sweating, chatting and laughing – you will feel SO much better falling into bed. I also enjoy having a goal that I can work towards. This year I would like to compete again in Ireland and also travel to some competitions outside of Ireland.

What is your advice for people looking to get into fencing?

Simply give it a go, don’t be shy! Get in touch with a club nearby and sign up for a beginners course – I promise you, you will love it. All you need is a pair of runners and comfy pants to start.

If you’re not doing this, how else do you like to get moving?

When I am not fencing, I like to go swimming, and be out in nature. Ireland has so much to offer: parks for walking, hiking trails, and the sea for swimming. But, I don’t overdo it – everything in moderation. I also firmly believe in a self-care routine that involves ice cream, books and a healthy dose of watching random cat videos on Instagram.

Why is movement important to you?

Staying active is extremely important: for your mental health as well as your physical health. I think everyone feels like there’s just not enough time to add movement and exercise into their day-to-day.

We spend so much time working on our career, caring for our families, sitting in front of our computers and staring at our phones – all while forgetting that we also need to make time for ourselves. Being physically active and taking that “me time” makes me feel good about myself.

This article first appeared in the October issue of STELLAR magazine.