ORONO, Maine — A family bond attracted Erin Gerbi to fencing.
Her father, Christopher, was a fencer at Amherst College in Massachusetts and her mother, Aimee, also was a fencer for a club team while she attended Mount Holyoke in nearby South Hadley, Massachusetts.
So when fencing was offered at the Old Town Recreation Department, Erin signed up and began fencing with John Krauss and his Downeast School of Fencing.
“I thought it would be cool,” said Erin, who was 9 years old at the time she started fencing. “And I’ve never looked back.”
She is now 13 and has definitely fast-tracked in the sport.
She has qualified to wield her sabre in the United States Fencing Association’s Summer Nationals in two age groups in Dallas this July: the Y-12s and Y-14s.
“I enjoy the sensation of fencing. It’s a great sport in a lot of areas,” Erin said. “It’s like physical chess.
“You have to really be able to think and make quick decisions. You also have to be in shape,” Erin said.
Another one of her passions is running and that has been beneficial to her development in fencing.
“It gets you in shape. I love cross-country. I really enjoy running through the woods,” said Erin, who is homeschooled but runs for the Orono Middle School cross-country and track teams.
An Orono native, she began fencing with a foil but quickly switched to the sabre because Krauss thought the sabre better suited her personality.
In foil, a competitor is only allowed to touch the opponent in the torso with the tip of the foil. In epee, the competitor can touch the whole body but, again, must do it with just the tip of the epee. In sabre, a competitor can use the whole blade and can touch the opponent anywhere from the waist up, including the arms and head. And slashing and cutting are allowed.
“Sabre is the most aggressive of the three and that’s what appealed to Erin,” her mother, Aimee, said.
“It’s far more aggressive. I enjoy the speed of it. I like having a blade in my hands. I enjoy working at it … mastering my skills … earning important victories and learning something,” Erin said.
Her interest in competing grew after attending an event at the Boston Fencing Club in Waltham, Massachusetts, in April 2014. She was warming up with a girl who befriended her and mentioned that she attended a sabre-only fencing camp taught by Alex Kushkov, who runs the Dynamo Fencing Center in Newton, Massachusetts.
Kushkov wound up giving the Gerbis a business card and told them he would be running a camp that summer. Erin attended the camp.
“She fell in love with it,” Aimee said. “When she got back, she told John [Krauss] she wanted to fence as much as she could and asked him if he could help her.”
That was the start of the 2014-15 fencing season and she started attending more competitions, mostly on the Regional Youth Circuit, while also attending Dynamo camps and clinics when she could.
Erin began staying after her Downeast School of Fencing youth class had ended so she could fence with adults. Krauss would also teach classes in Bucksport and the Gerbis would pack up and attend those.
She would fence in Old Town on Wednesdays and in Bucksport on Thursdays.
Her parents also sought other venues to satisfy her appetite for the sport.
She fenced at Colby College in Waterville this past Thursday.
“That was nice,” Erin said.
She has fenced when they vacationed in California and when they visited her grandmother in Florida.
She attended two camps at the Dynamo Fencing Center last summer and that led to another opportunity to further her young career.
“After that, she was invited to become a member of their junior competitive team,” Aimee said. “She told me we have to do this. We have to move to Newton. But we couldn’t do that.”
So the next best thing was to set up a schedule which would allow Erin to attend Dynamo one week a month and that is what they have done while she also continues fencing for Krauss.
She has competed in several regional tournaments for Dynamo, including a highly-competitive Super Youth Circuit event in Long Island and she finished in the top 16, which helped punch her ticket to the nationals.
“I have been getting way more into this this year,” Erin said. “I’m learning a ton. I’m really branching out.”
Kushkov, who was born in Ukraine and has fenced for more than 28 years, called Erin an “exceptional kid.
“She never gives up. She’s always moving forward,” said Kushkov, who is also the head coach of the Tufts University men’s club fencing team in Medford, Massachusetts. “She is crazy about fencing. She is really committed to the sport.
“She is a great athlete and she does her homework. She watches video to review her matches and she knows her opponents and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Kushkov said. “She is able to adapt her style. She’s a really good student.”
He said sabre is the most demanding and complicated of the three fencing groups and requires the most athleticism.
Erin said she is elated about qualifying for the nationals.
“I’m a little bit nervous because it will be my first nationals. I’ve been to some national tournaments before but I’ve never been to the nationals. I think it’s going to be great,” said Erin, the oldest of the Gerbis’ four children.
She has short- and long-term goals.
“The nationals are my immediate goal,” she said.
Then she would like to attend Junior Olympic and North America Cup meets when she meets the age requirement next year.
“And I would like to go to a good fencing college,” she said. “From there, who knows, maybe the Olympics.”
“She is a good fencer. She will be a good addition to any college program,” Kushkov said.
He also said her engaging personality is a plus.
“She is a real easy-going girl who makes friends wherever she goes,” he said.
The Gerbis are raising funds to help defray the costs of Erin’s trip to the nationals. Fundraising projects will be held and others can contribute by visiting GoFundMe.com/ErinNationalsFund.