Michelle Lee '14 makes her mark as a champion fencer
A gifted fencer, Michelle Lee ’14 hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Until then, she has some training partners close to home, as her father and 11-year-old sister both took up the sport shortly after Lee did four years ago.
“My mother tried her hand at fencing too, but she quit after a week, as she didn’t enjoy getting hit.”
It’s no wonder that Lee regularly bests her family. She is one of the top teen fencers in the world and has already racked up many significant wins. She won a gold medal last March in Reno at a Division II U.S. Fencing Association national competition for women’s foil and an 11th place finish in a Cadet (under-17) Paris World Cup (the CEP Marathon) last February.
She finished 20th at an under-17 World Cup competition in Pisa, 19th in Baltimore at the Junior Olympics last February and 9th at a national junior (under 19) competition.
In the Cadet division, Lee finished the season ranking 84th in the world (out of 575) and 21st nationally.
Lee enjoys traveling to compete “even though I don’t always get to see the places I visited as I had to return to San Francisco in time for classes. I didn’t see much of Poland or Budapest. I did have a chance to see the Eiffel Tower while in Paris and the Leaning Tower when competing at Pisa.”
After watching the sport on TV and trying it at a summer camp, Lee began taking fencing lessons as an eighth grader at the San Francisco Fencer’s Club on 41st Avenue and Balboa Street, where she trains two and a half hours six days a week to improve her footwork and fencing moves.
That training paid off in Reno when she was down 6–2 against Boston’s Christine Yao, whom she had beaten once before. “I just had to focus on what I was doing wrong. I like how the sport involves intellect and strategy as much as it does athletic ability. I try to watch my opponents ahead of time and then create one moment when I can hit her. I’ve learned to time my footwork and feint often. By now, fencing for me is mostly reflex.”
That’s a far cry from her early days in the sport when she would pull hamstrings and end up with bruises and cuts. “I was using muscles I had never used before and found it difficult breathing through the mask.”
If she does make it to the Olympics, Lee might compete for U.S. or Hong Kong, as she holds dual citizenship. (Hong Kong competes separately from China at the Olympics.)
To get there, she will continue fencing with her girls her age, and, when they aren’t around, she’ll cross foils with her father. “But of course I’m better,” she says. “I train more than he does.”
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