Sandra Marchant was losing.
It was the North American Cup fencing championships in Minneapolis in 2014. Marchant was competing in the final round in the over-40 division against Ann Totemeier. Marchant had fallen behind 9 touches to 6. It was a 10-touch bout, which meant that if her opponent landed one more strike with her weapon, Marchant would lose.
As the fight resumed, Marchant moved toward Totemeier. Marchant beat her opponent’s blade with an attack high and to the inside and dropped down and hit her in her flank below her sword arm. Marchant scored a touch.
Still down 9-7 and with nothing to lose, Marchant tried the same move again, and then again, successfully scoring two more touches with it, and tying the score at 9.
As action resumed, she tried the move one final time. As she did she heard someone yell “touch,” and knew the bout was over, but was unsure who had won.
“I thought she hit me,” Marchant recalls. “I look over and it was my light that was on. I couldn’t believe that I made the touch. I flipped the mask off. I screamed and I literally fell to the stage. I was crying, I was so happy.”
Describing the contest one morning in November at Spill The Beans coffeeshop in Prospect, Marchant, a mother of three, picks up a spoon and jabs it forward as though it’s a sword. Marchant is demonstrating a move from the fight, but as her arm darts with trained precision, she is simultaneously displaying something else: her unabashed and infectious love of fencing.
Marchant is ranked as one of the top three over-40 female fencers in the country. She regularly competes on the tournament circuit and has amassed an impressive collection of medals. In addition, Marchant is a full-time fencing instructor and ardent missionary for the sport. She teaches at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, the Prospect Fencing Club, Greens Farms Academy in Westport, the Fairfield Fencing Academy and for homeschool groups. She also works to bring attention to fencing through outrageous publicity stunts and photo shoots she does with her friend Alexander Turoff, who teaches fencing in New York.
Last summer Turoff and Marchant donned Tyrannosaurus rex outfits. They then posed with their weapons on top of a float in front of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor (below). Marchant and Turoff have also done photo shoots in front of Bannerman Castle on the Hudson River, and high above the ground on home ropes courses, in a real-world recreation of the swashbuckling scenes from pirate movies.
It’s all part of Marchant’s effort to bring attention to fencing and encourage others to share in its joys.
Surprisingly, Marchant didn’t begin fencing until she was in her mid-20s when she happened to hear that her parents’ accountant, Edgar Sanchez, taught the sport at Quinnipiac University. Sanchez invited Marchant to attend a class. Something clicked inside her when she was there.
“This is the only time this has ever happened in my life,” she says. “I picked up the weapon and the lights got brighter, and I could hear music in my head. It was one thing I knew I had to do.”
Marchant is a lifelong fan of Star Wars and Wonder Woman, and fencing gave her the chance to have her own “lightsaber” fights and take down opponents like a superhero. At a time when Marchant had a baby daughter, was going through a divorce and struggling with social skills, fencing became her outlet.
She began training privately with Ralph Spinella, a Quinnipiac fencing instructor and former Olympian. She would train for an hour and a half, seven days a week. Marchant couldn’t pay for the training, so she bartered with Spinella. “I worked my lessons off; I cleaned his house, I reupholstered his furniture,” Marchant says.
She went on to win many awards on the fencing circuit. Along the way she remarried and had two more children. Her oldest daughter, Lauren Richards, is a student at the University of Rhode Island. Her son, AJ, is 15 and on the fencing team at his high school and her daughter, Morgan, practices fencing for fun. Marchant says her husband, Albert, is incredibly supportive of her passion.
This is good because Marchant isn’t ready to sheath her weapon anytime soon. She still competes regularly and, when she turns 50 in three years, hopes to join the senior USA team and compete at the World Cup.
“I want a world medal,” she says.
In the meantime, she continues to train every day. She also does all she can to encourage others to take up the sport no matter their age. She says it’s a way of cheating exercise because it’s so enjoyable. “What’s not fun about hitting your friends and thinking you’re any superhero you want to be?” she says. “You can be anyone you want to be behind the mask.”
This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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