How SFU fencing is making the jump from unknown to national competitors

We sit down with co-presidents Marie-Rose Bruskiewicz and Jonathan Hutchinson to discuss the future of SFU’s exciting new sports club

Marie-Rose Bruskiewicz has gone from never having fenced before, to being one of the best in the country during her university life. Photo by: Alexa Tarrayo.

As the fall semester begins, and Simon Fraser athletics starts to pick up with volleyball, soccer, and football, sport clubs such as SFU fencing seem to be forgotten. This, however, does not need to be the case. By speaking with co-president’s Marie-Rose Bruskiewicz (SFU fencer) and Jonathan Hutchinson (head coach), SFU fencing is ready to take the national stage by storm.

This, of course, comes after the success that they’ve already had, even if it has not been acknowledged by the university. After Bruskiewicz and teammate Isaac Velestuk both finished with bronze medals at the 2016 Canadian Fencing Federation’s National Championships in the University Division, a tremendous accomplishment, they were not praised by the school they represented.

“We both came out with bronze medals, and we represented SFU, but SFU had no idea,” said Bruskiewicz.

It wasn’t until the athletes and their coach reached out to The Peak that their story was known, and things have been progressing ever since. “The first article paved the way for us to get the ball rolling,” said Hutchinson. From being forced to train in empty classrooms, or the Forum Chambers at 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., and never between those hours, this exposure allowed them to be recognized as an SFU sports club.

While this is a nice step forward, it only marks the beginning for what Bruskiewicz and Hutchinson hope to accomplish at Simon Fraser. While SFU fencing is now acknowledged within the school itself, they hope to expand this to across British Columbia, and even make a nation-wide impact.

According to both, there is elite talent for fencing in British Columbia, but nowhere to go for those that want to stay in Canada and represent a university. Many Canadian fencers have to make the decision between being able to compete in the Olympics or going to a Canadian university, with many opting to compete for NCAA schools in the United States if the opportunity presents itself. Since many athletes don’t begin to hit their stride until 18 or 19, however, as Hutchinson noted, they miss the opportunity to compete for NCAA schools. “To see this wealth of talent not being explored, it really bugged me,” said Hutchinson.

Bruskiewicz serves as an extreme example of how an athlete can hit their stride late. After having never fenced before, Hutchinson (her boyfriend and coach) introduced her to the sport in her first year at Simon Fraser in 2013. In merely three years she went from having never fenced before to medaling on the national stage. As Hutchinson explains, however, this is no fluke. Five of six students he began coaching when they were 12 years old had medaled on the national level and become provincial champions in the span of three years. One of them just finished second at the world championships. “What it shows is, that in the span of a university undergraduate life, you can go from having never done something before, to being very proficient . . . to being one of the best in the country,” said Hutchinson.

When these athletes are picking how (and if) they will be pursuing fencing post high school, Hutchinson hopes that they will pick Simon Fraser. The foundation is being built, with just under 10 competitive athletes involved in SFU fencing, three of which have competed nationally before. Those who have yet to compete at the national level still have an important role on the team, however, as they are elevating the level of the competitive athletes through training until it is their time to shine.

“I’ve seen the most success in the shortest amount of time when people work together and try to build each other, and everybody leaves their egos [aside] and everybody tries to unite underneath the concept of chasing perfection and getting better,” said Hutchinson.

This foundation will help SFU fencing continue to expand in the upcoming years, with the goal of becoming internationally respected. “One day I’m hoping to have tournaments here. One day I’m hoping to bring . . . American schools and other countries here [to SFU],” said Hutchinson, “In order to achieve that, we need to win a few national championships, which will not be a problem.”

For now, it is important to appreciate how far SFU fencing has come in just a few years. They now have scheduled practices on Mondays and Tuesdays from 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. in either the east or central gym. From Bruskiewicz competing nationally for SFU without it being known to the school (with her coach having to speak to her through Facetime on her aunt’s phone), to having a club in place and a convenient place to practice, things are looking up.

“I am . . . excited that if somebody is looking on Club[s] Day[s] for fencing, we are going to be there, and we are going to be able to give them that opportunity that I didn’t have,” said Bruskiewicz.

For those interested in being a part of the SFU fencing club, or just want more information, they will be present at Burnaby campus’ Clubs Days from 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. They will be hosting tryouts the following week on September 18 in either the central or east gym from 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Both Bruskiewicz and Hutchinson encourage anybody to try it, as it is more a skill assessment test than anything. For true beginners that would like be a part of the SFU fencing club, the SFU fencing recreational program will work as a feeder program to the competitive team.