How I Got This Body: Fencing for fitness

  • Article by: SHEILA MULROONEY ELDRED , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2011 - 11:02 AM

After 15 years and one bout of breast cancer, Mary Newstrom still fences three times a week as her main source of exercise. She also rides her bike, does yoga and lifts weights.

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Mary Newstrom competes at national and international levels, but it she started fencing as a way to get exercise. Steve Tubbs, left, was her opponent at the Minnesota Sword Club in Minneapolis.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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After happening on a brochure that mentioned fencing classes at the Minnesota Sword Club, Mary Newstrom signed up. That was 1996. Fifteen years and one bout of breast cancer later, Newstrom still fences three times a week as her main source of exercise. She also rides her bike, does yoga and lifts weights — although she says that fencing alone could keep one in perfect shape.

DANCING AND BOUTING: I fence with beginners and elites, men and women. It's good practice to fence at all different levels. We usually do about 15-20 minutes of footwork, which is critical because it's like a dance. Then we do a little bit of blade work, and then bouting, where we implement what we've been practicing.

CHECKMATE: It's very physical -- most people don't really know how aerobic it is. It requires bursts of energy. There's also a lot of technique in fencing. I give you an illusion that you can hit me -- it's more of a mental chess game. People who fence are a great group of people: smart, interested in a lot of different things.

PREVENTIVE MEDICINE: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, did treatment in 2010, and I'm cancer-free now. I've been back fencing a couple of months. I switched to walking during treatment. My attitude is that fencing and being active made my cancer so much more manageable. The recovery has been really good. And the Sword Club was so supportive through my treatment. It was that whole social support from fencing that helped me out.

ABOVE-AVERAGE: After I started, I decided to get more into competing -- locally, nationally and internationally. I was above average, but never elite. What surprised me was that you have to work really, really hard and you may still be just above average. To be elite you have to be gifted, too. I accept that. It was fun, and I got to travel with the team. Now I've decided to do it to stay in shape and not be competitive. But next year I'll be 50, in the old folks' division, so I may go back to competing.

ZORRO: There are three categories of fencing: foil, which is the traditional type of fencing; epee, which takes the most patience, and saber, which tends to be really quick, and what the Olympic champions in their teens and early 20s do. I like saber because it's quick and explosive. It's the most like Zorro, except that's exaggerated, but it's like that -- dynamic, quick, a lot of finesse.

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