Junior fencer to compete in Junior Olympics

January 29, 2020 — by Harshini Velchamy and Marisa Kingsley

Almost any day of the week you can see junior Aaria Thomas working hard in the challenging classes she takes during the day. She might be poring over “The Great Gatsby” or finishing trigonometry problems. Catch her in the evening, however, and she transforms into a national-level fencer who practices bouts against fellow club members, handily maneuvers her foil and dodges her opponent as they lunge at her. 

Thomas, who has been fencing for six years, will compete in this year’s Junior Olympics in Columbus, Ohio, which will take place from Feb. 14 to 17, where over 2,000 qualifying athletes in the U.S. at the Junior level (ages 17 and under) and Cadet levels (20 and under) will compete to qualify for the Junior World Championships in the spring. 

To qualify, competitors must acquire 110 regional or national points in their respective events in the Junior or Cadet tournament circuit, which starts a year before the Junior Olympics. Or, they can place the top 25 percent of their division’s Junior Olympic qualifying competition. At competitions, a fencer compete in matches — or bouts — and earn points depending on how well they place. 

Thomas already had 60 points from a tournament last May, but wasn’t able to compete for two months last semester due to school obligations and standardized testing preparation. Although she attempted to make up for this by competing in December, she wasn’t confident that she would make the top 25 percent, so when she got the notification that she would be moving to compete in the Junior Olympics, she was elated.

“I was 100 percent sure I didn’t qualify,” she said. “I was so disappointed in myself that I didn't do better. Then to find out that I qualified — it was like this weight was lifted from my shoulders.”

Thomas, who fences for California Fencing Academy in Campbell, initially became interested in the sport after hearing about it from a friend who fenced for another club and decided to try it out for herself. She enrolled in a class, and despite disliking the sport at first, she stuck through simply to finish the class and ended up truly enjoying the experience of challenging herself with new workouts as well as the stress relief from school.

“Just going to hit someone with a sword, it’s a huge stress-reliever,” she joked.  

She usually trains four days per week after school, for two to two and a half hours, but now Thomas said she’s starting to train on the weekends as well to prepare for the competition.

With all the stress of the tournament adding on to the taxing workload of junior year, Thomas reflects on how important it is for her to stay organized and focused.

“You have to be on top of everything you do, like at school during tutorial and lunch,” she said. “If I have any work to do, I just sit down and do it because I'm not gonna have time at home.”

Other than time management, Thomas has dealt with other obstacles that have impeded her ability to fence. Thomas has been suffering from a hip injury and multiple recurring wrist injuries. Most of all, she considers her biggest challenge to stay positive and calm during the competition.

“My biggest problem is not mentally psyching myself up and just staying confident,” Thomas said. ”I just need to be able to stay calm and just focus on like scoring the next point.”

Most importantly, however, Thomas values the experience of being able to attend the Junior Olympics, especially the opportunity to compete against internationally ranked fencers. 

“I often lose to [internationally ranked fencers] because they’re so good,” she said.  “But I love fencing them because I know it’s going to be more exciting and I just have to try harder.”

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