Event: women’s team foil
Local Club: Ottawa Fencing
By Emma Kelly
“It’s been a completely different world for me,” Ottawa’s Kelleigh Ryan says, recounting training after the unprecedented delay of the Olympic Games.
In the days before the Olympics were pushed back a year, Ryan, who is a graduate of Glebe Collegiate and Carleton University, had to scramble. When she heard that the International Fencing Federation (FIE) was shutting down all events because of the virus responsible for causing COVID, she booked a flight to her home in New Jersey.
While living there with her husband, fencing coach Alex Martin, Ryan had intended to continue training nearby in New York City. But it was only a matter of time before the pandemic caused New York City to shut down.
She and Martin then flew to Ottawa, where after the 14-day quarantine they had to serve after coming back to Canada, Ryan attempted to keep training for a short while before heading to Calgary, where facilities, again, would shut down shortly after her move.
At the time, Calgary didn’t give national team athletes exceptions, meaning Ryan was resigned to training in her house. Usually used to high performance training centres and regular practice on a strip, Ryan was stuck relying on smaller weights and sprints to keep in shape.
Despite the underwhelming circumstances, Ryan said she enjoyed time she had to focus on skills instead of bout technique.
The change in routine also helped Ryan realize just how important her mental performance was to her overall performance.
The Tokyo Games will be Ryan’s first Olympics, and the COVID crisis will prevent her husband from being able to experience it in person with her — much to Ryan’s disappointment.
“It is a little upsetting as we wanted to experience this together,” Ryan said.
Ryan and Martin have been together for 14 years, during which they’ve experienced a great number of competitions. Within that time, Ryan’s won more than a dozen medals at Pan American Championships, two medals at the Pan American Games, and has competed almost every year at the FIE World Championships.
While Martin helps coach Ryan, he’s not one of Canada’s national team coaches, meaning he’s not allowed to attend the Games.
Though she won’t benefit from Martin’s presence at the Games, Ryan said that she is confident that the work they’ve put in together over the years will pay off come competition-time.
Having experienced the Olympics before as a team supporter, Ryan’s still excited for her chance to compete, even despite the COVID measures that will make Tokyo’s Games more contained than they normally are.
“I remember the electricity I felt in the room when watching Eleanor (Harvey) compete in Rio 2016 and I am excited to experience this now as a player,” Ryan said.
Harvey, who Ryan will compete with in the women’s foil team event, defeated the world’s top-ranked fencer in her Olympic debut and placed 7th overall, which is the highest a Canadian fencer has ever placed at the Games.
Competition begins in the women’s foil team event on July 29.
Ryan, who is 34, wouldn’t say conclusively whether she’ll continue competing with the national team after these Olympics.
“I want to leave the door open for now,” she said. “Next year I would like to maybe attend a couple tournaments. I am not sure how I will feel after these Games, so I want to make (that) decision after Tokyo.”