Asquith-based fencers aim for Olympics

Ryan Rousell, left, and Kirsten van Marion each score a point during a bout on April 7, 2018 at the Alfred Jenkins Field House. -- Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

By Evan Radford and Peter Lozinski, Daily Herald

So far, a central Saskatchewan town of about 640 people has produced two world-class fencers, both of who have their sabres set an Olympic competition.

Kirsten van Marion and Ryan Rousell were both in Prince Albert over the weekend, competing in the local P.A. Knights Fencing Club’s annual Northwest Fencing Tournament.

Their home fencing club is based out of Asquith, which sits about 40 kilometres west of Saskatoon.

While their paths to world Gold will likely take each of them different routes – Rousell is a wheelchair-based fencer, and van Marion is an abled-bodied fencer – they’ve helped each other out along the way.

“Honestly without the support I probably wouldn’t have made it here: I have all my teammates supporting me, the coaches, the province and they’ve kind of all just come together to help me out,” Rousell said, adding that van Marion will sometimes hop into the wheelchair across from him to bout for training. “They’ve put in a lot of time to make sure I can get to where I want to be.”

He explained that his home club in Asquith has wheelchairs set up for fencing, and “the able-bodied fencers like Kirsten and Matthew they’ll get in the chair and they’ll practice with me. And by myself, I usually get lessons from (my coaches).”

He started the sport when he was five years old, after seeing a demonstration at school.

“I went to mom, and I was like ‘mom, we gotta do this!’ So I ended up going and I was actually the first student there – I was by myself for the first week before other people started arriving, so it was a lonely experience at first.

“I ended up picking it up and I’ve been doing it now for 13 years,” he said with a big smile.

Rousell has had some success on the world stage the already: He won bronze in the Under-23 World Competition last July in Warsaw, Poland.

And he intends to keep pushing himself.

At the end of April, he’ll travel to Montreal to compete in another international competition.

Later this year, he’ll head to Japan for an international training camp.

Two fencers compete in a bout at the Alfred Jenkins Field House in Prince Albert on April 7, 2018. Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

If everything goes according to plan, he’ll be competing in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. “But if that’s not a thing I can do in the coming years, I will definitely aim for 2024.”

Until then, he said he’ll be relying on the ups and downs that have taken him this far – “lots of good advice, lots of hard hours of training and lots of failures; lots of failures and learning processes.”

Similarly, Kirsten van Marion has Olympic aspirations.

As an able-bodied fencer, she’s been competing for the past 10 years.

“Ultimately, the Olympics would be where I want to be; but 2024 is kind of the time I’m shooting for.

“Other than that, there’s the World Cup and the Senior Satellites … I’ll be a first-year senior next year, so I’ll be gathering all experience where I can.”

The key for her success, she says is a variety of opponents, situations and bouts, “just to make myself so I’m able to adapt to the different situations.”

Canada’s national fencing team has also reportedly had some early interesting in recruiting here.

“It’s really exciting. It makes me want to try harder to get there.”

Part of that process is what van Marion enjoys, she said, explaining that the people in the sport are what keep her coming back for more bouting.

Rousell takes a somewhat different approach.

The biggest appeal for him is the psychological component of the sport.

“The mental chess you play; not just physically but also mentally with your opponent. Trying to get inside their head; for me that’s the fun part.”

According to P.A. Knights member Bob Spraklin, there were approximately 27 fencers in P.A. for the weekend tournament.

He said the normal turnout is closer to 45 or 50 fencers.

Fencer Ryan Rousell blocks a lunge from his opponent during a fencing bout at the Alfred Jenkins Field House on April 7, 2018 in Prince Albert. — Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald