By Martin Cleary
Four-time Canadian Olympic fencer Sherraine Schalm was looking forward to a new adventure in February.
The former Ottawa athlete, who now lives in Peschiera del Garda, Italy, with her young family, did latch onto her life’s next chapter last month, but it wasn’t the one she was originally pursuing.
The assignment she really wanted to be part of never unfolded for her because she was foiled, to use a fencing term, by the pandemic.
Wow, does that ever sound confusing. Well, let me explain.
Schalm, who earned her Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Ottawa in 2001, was asked by the Canadian Olympic Committee to be an Athlete Mentor at the recent 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
“It was just as support staff, basically making sure the athletes were comfortable and taken care of in the village,” Schalm, 41, wrote in an email interview. “I was looking forward to it, but sadly didn’t have the chance to help out in that way.”
She was denied that opportunity, after testing positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
“I would love to answer your questions about the Beijing Olympics, nearly as much as I would have loved to help out at the Games,” she added, “but Omicron came to my daughter’s school about three weeks before I was to leave, and my daughters and I got it.”
Schalm, the 2006 World Cup women’s epee champion and a silver and bronze medallist at the world championships in 2009 and 2005 respectively, was triple vaccinated and her two daughters also received the proper arm jabs. And everyone had been wearing N95 masks. Even though her daughter who tested positive was isolating in one part of their house, the virus was passed to Schalm and her other daughter.
“The COC decided that it was too risky to have me possibly still test residually positive afterwards, even if I tested negative five days after my positive test, and have me stuck in Chinese isolation,” she continued. “So, all that to say, I didn’t end up going to the Games, this time.”
But the upbeat and articulate Schalm found not one, but two positives from her positive (test result), which led to a negative (no trip to Beijing).
From a family point of view, she was able to spend 12 days in the house with her daughters (11 and seven years old) and “they (were) so much fun that we had a grand time.”
“(We) caught up on musicals, homework, knitting, baking,” Schalm explained. “It was really a decent situation in spite of being disappointed to not help out at the Games.”
The month of February also presented Schalm, who was ninth individually in women’s epee at the 2008 Olympics and helped Canada to a fourth-place team result at the 2004 Summer Games, an opportunity to return to the Canadian fencing scene.
Schalm was invited by the Canadian Fencing Federation to coach the Canadian women’s epée team.
“It’s really great,” she added. “The ladies are very motivated, young and seem to be heading in a good direction. I’m so happy to be a part of that.
“I have attended one team World Cup and one individual World Cup to provide piste-side help and generally make sure our team is all moving in the same direction.
“Only the meetings are done by Zoom, otherwise the ladies get their lessons from their individual coaches and I am kind of a team captain/head coach for events and training camps.
“We will see how it pans out. Since fencing in Canada is not totally centralized anyway, it is not totally bananas for me to do it from Europe instead of Canada.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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