By Michael Sun
The 2019 Pan American Fencing Championships were another step in the journeys of resilience of Ottawa fencers Kelleigh Ryan and John Wright.
At the Toronto-held championships that took place from late June into early July, Ryan won a bronze medal in the women’s foil competition, while Wright finished 4th with Canada’s men’s epee team, as well as 35th in the men’s individual epee.
Ryan has been a national team member since 2008, while Wright has taken a “weird avenue” to get back to competing with Team Canada, as he puts it.
Both started fencing in Ottawa at an early age, with Ryan recalling choosing the sword over taking up karate as a child. Though she never cracked the national junior teams, she continued rising up the ranks as a youth. It was while she was doing her master’s degree at Carleton University and fencing with the Ravens’ team that she decided to seriously dedicate herself to the sport – leading to her selection to Canada’s national team ahead of the 2008 Pan American Fencing Championships. She never looked back, competing at every rendition of the Pan Am fencing championships since.
Wright, on the other hand, did grow up as part of Canada’s junior national teams. To the 28-year-old, travelling was the most enjoyable aspect of being an elite junior athlete. But after struggling during the 2013 season, Wright left the national team and moved to Ireland to attend law school.
Ireland is also where Wright says he rediscovered his love for fencing. When he returned to Canada to attend Queen’s University to finish his education he kept fencing as a member of the university’s team.
It was during his absence from the national team that Wright said he learned to cope with the pressure of the sport.
A victory at last year’s 2018 Satellite Epee World Cup regained Wright a birth on the national team.
Speaking about this year’s Pan American Fencing Championships, Wright said it was “a little rough.”
“There were some positive things coming out of that. All my bouts were super, super close,” he said.
Ryan said she typically struggles during the year before the Olympics, but that during this cycle of the Games she’s managed to handle her stress better.
“This time, I allowed myself to go all in more,” Ryan noted.
Using visualization techniques, practising breathing exercises and journaling are all things she does to help prepare herself for pressure situations.
Wright will compete at the Pan Am Games later this month, but Ryan will not. She’s set on making the 2020 Olympics, a long-term goal for her that’s now turned into a short-term one, she points out.
“It would mean a lot because it would mean it’s the first time in a long time that Canadian fencing has qualified a women’s foil team for the Olympics,” said the 32-year-old, who admits she’s begun to start thinking about life after fencing.
“For me, competing is a really exhilarating experience. It is really great when it goes well and it really sucks when it doesn’t, but I think the good days are worth the bad days,” Ryan reflected.