Let’s reflect on this moment.
That’s me at a viewing party I threw to watch the 2016 Women’s Saber Olympic team event in Rio de Jainero, Brazil. The same team I paused medical school to train for. The same team I had envisioned fencing on after feeling butterflies in my stomach while watching the previous Olympics in 2012. The same team that would go on to win a bronze medal 4 hours later…without me.
The question that haunted me since I lost the bout that cost me the Olympic team flashed through my mind again:
Where do I go from here?
The entire summer revolved around two conversations I had with my USA teammates: one before the Olympic team was decided and one after. The first was with my fellow NYC saber fencer, Daryl Homer, the day before the last world cup of the qualifying season. He asked what my plans were for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Being optimistic about the competition the following day and making the 2016 team, I told him of course I wanted to keep fencing. Being more experienced, as he's been around this Olympic block a few times, he told me it wasn't as simple as I was making it out to be. It was a hard decision that would involve another 4 years of commitment, sacrifice, and putting my life on hold for something that wasn't guaranteed.
The second conversation was with my teammate and good friend, Dagmara Wozniak. We just fenced in the last world cup before the Olympics (that counted for the 2016-2017 season, hence the reason I was there) and I did terribly. I didn't make top 64 or gain national points. It seemed like I completely lost my confidence after not making the Olympic team. On the first leg of our return to the states, while everyone else was asleep we got into a deep conversation. She asked me what my plans were for Toyko (sound familiar??) I said the same thing as before: “I wanted to fence and didn't want to give up on my dream.” But this time it didn't have the same ferocity as when I was speaking to Daryl. That's when she assured me regardless of my medical career choices, I couldn't give up and I had to keep fencing. I looked at her like she was insane. "Were you watching the same bout I was when I lost yesterday because I sucked!" Then she rolled her eyes and ignored me the same way she always does when I make a silly comment.
Not qualifying for the Olympic team was the most painful failure I have ever experienced. I couldn’t get pass the feeling that I'd let everyone down: the deans at my medical and business school who had been so understanding, my coach, my family, my mother, and most importantly myself. Everyone I knew planned on watching me compete at this Olympics, but as soon as August 2016 rolled around I was sitting right next to them on the couch. As someone who is able to bounce back from negative feelings in hours sometimes even seconds, I couldn't shake off this disappointment for months. Everyday I had to stop and question "Am I ready to fully commit myself again to something that isn't guaranteed? What if I don't make the team AGAIN?"
This time around there's more on the line, which is unbelievably frightening. In two years I'll be finished with medical school and tough decisions will have to be made about how to go to school in NJ, train in NYC and what to do with my career after I graduate. But I can't give up. I've worked too hard and I am just getting started. Nothing felt worse than the moment I knew I lost my bout and my Olympic dreams were over. But nothing felt better than the moment I took off my mask and screamed as I won my first national championship, two weeks later. Was that feeling the same as qualifying for the Olympics? Absolutely Not! However, it was a step in the right direction. An improvement. An omen that told me I would be a fool to stop fencing before I reached the peak of my athletic career.
With that being said, its official: Tokyo 2020 here I come!!