Rhie ’20 rises in the ranks: Star fencer takes on national competitions

Lena Rhie ’20 said she stumbled into fencing two years ago when she came to the Upper School (US) in ninth grade. Now she competes in national tournaments and fences on both the school team and club team at the Boston Fencing Club in Brighton. This winter Lena has already traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the December North American Cup and to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the January North American Cup, to face off against the country’s top saber fencers.

In Cincinnati during her pool-bouts—rounds of fencing that determine how fencers will be seeded—Lena went nearly undefeated, with a record of 4–1. She lost in her first direct elimination round with a score of 15–12, a performance that she said she was happy with, as her opponent has been fencing for 10 years. 

In the January North American Cup, however, Lena said she did not meet her expectations for herself.

Each tournament presents fencers with an opportunity to improve their rating, a letter from A through E awarded to those who rank high at regional and national tournaments. For the year 2018, Lena earned a D, a ranking Lena’s coach told her usually takes fencers three years to earn.

“I want to get a C or a B within the next year or so,” Lena said. 

As a general rule, to earn a C she would have to place third at a regional tournament; to earn a B, she would have to win.

Lena began fencing after spending 10 years practicing kung fu, a sport in which she has won multiple national championships and been ranked number one for girls age 13 to 17 in the wushu style since 2016.

“I think definitely balance, hand-eye coordination, overall leg strength, and explosiveness—a lot of the foundation I got from martial arts—translates into fencing,” she said.

Lena added that these days she enjoys fencing more than kung fu because it presents her with new challenges.

“Doing a sport for 10 years got boring,” she said. “I had exhausted most of the things you can learn at that level. I thought trying a new sport would be interesting, and it has been.”

This winter Lena is working out with the club team every week day and attending the school’s fencing practices on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Her schedule has her fencing significantly less than in the 2017-2018 season, when she was attending double practices almost every day. Practice with the school team runs from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., and club practice runs from 7 to 9 p.m. 

“It was really taxing,” Lena said, recalling last year’s workout schedule. “I was up all night doing my homework, and I had no time to sleep or hang out with friends. I couldn’t put all I needed into BB&N, and I was too tired to do club.”

Last year the school team started training exclusively at Boston Fencing Club, where Lena said the equipment, facility, training partners, and coaching are strongest. Since that move, Boston Fencing Club Coach Matt Zic has become head coach of the school fencing  team as well.

Coach Zich said Lena trains as hard as she can any time she’s in the gym, whether with the club or the school team. 

“She sets the standard for training regiments and work ethic,” he said, “and she’s a very good example for the rest of the team.” 

Fellow US fencers Kevin Ye ’19, who fences foil nationally, and Bear Gruzen ’20, who fences epee regionally, also practice with club teams, Bear at Boston Fencing alongside Lena. The school team had its first meet on Sunday, as this paper went to press.

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