Edina resident Sarah Filby was introduced to weapons at age 7: swordplay meant not to harm, but foils (weapons) used in the sport of fencing. While living in Michigan, Sarah and a friend were introduced to the sport by a neighbor who taught them about strips (fencing area), bouts (matches) and the world of fencing. “It was something fun for her to try out,” Sarah’s mother says.
One of Sarah’s coaches is Mike Pederson, the current Canadian women’s cadet and junior foil national team coach. He says, “Fencing is a fight between two people who are vying for control of the situation and ultimately ownership of the bout.” As such, fencing moves fast, and a fencer needs to be strong in terms of imposing his or her will on the other person, flexible in terms of strategy, perceptive in terms of analysis of the opponent and mentally tough and resilient.
According to Pederson, Sarah, 16, embodies all of these skills. “She is an excellent competitor, has a strong technical background and a strong ability to set tactical situations up so they come mostly in her favor,” he says.
Sarah’s family had no idea how life-changing that one childhood introduction to a sport would be. Sarah is now a decorated foil fencer and an ambassador for the sport. Her awards are numerous and most recently, she finished second in Canada in the 2014-15 cadet women’s foil rankings after making the top three in multiple events. Sarah was the first Team USA Fencing All-Academic Team member in 2013-14 and 2014-15. She not only excels at her sport, but has received an academic achievement award for a cumulative GPA of 3.85 or higher.
Sarah has trained in Michigan, then Chicago and now trains at the Twin Cities Fencing Club in St. Paul with Roberto Sobalvarro, the former coach of the U.S. women’s 2012 bronze medal Olympic epee team.
While her room is filled with medals and awards, Sarah says it hasn’t always been this way, “When I started competing, I lost almost every bout. I wanted to quit,” she says. “But I kept trying, practicing, and working hard. I stuck with it. I am so glad I did. I now love the satisfaction of performing right, using everything correctly.”
Sarah’s success-filled road involves a rigorous training and traveling schedule. She travels to Winnipeg, Manitoba, once a month for training camps with Ayach Bounachada and the Manitoba Provincial Team, as well as other training camps throughout the year in both Canada and the United States. During the past two seasons, she has traveled to Poland, France, and Uzbekistan as well as all over the U.S. and Canada for tournaments. Her response to the constant travel: “I love how independent it has made me.”
What shines brighter than her medals and awards is her humble, kind spirit off the strip. “Sarah is a funny person who loves to have fun with her friends,” Bounachada says.
Her mother concurs. “Sarah is pretty laid-back yet very focused and determined,” she says. “She has a unique ability to not get rattled during a competition.”
Sarah says, “Fencing is physical, but it is also a mental game. Staying calm when you are down can make all the difference in the world when you are competing in a bout.”
She’s found fencers in Edina and surrounding communities to be “a tight group of really amazing people. While it is an individual sport, it is the team feeling that spurs me on.”
Sarah’s family will be spending a lot more time in Canada as this Hornet spreads her wings to attend St. John’s-Ravenscourt school in Winnipeg, where she will train as a junior-level athlete. When asked about this transition, an even-keeled Sarah says, “I am sad to leave friends in Edina and my fencing community, but excited for the opportunity to reach my potential.”
Sarah Filby trains in St. Paul at Twin Cities Fencing. Learn more about their program here.