At 7 years old, Madeline Janowski learned of what we become her passion: fencing. Now, eight years later, the rising ninth-grader, who will attend North Springs Charter High School in August, has excelled within a very competitive sport, winning the state championship and competing on a national level.

Madeline Janowski fences against opponent at the 2017 North American Cup competition. (Special)

Madeline became interested in fencing from watching it during the Olympics. Like many kids, she had played team sports at a young age, but her parents encouraged her to adopt an individual sport to help her build character and self-confidence.

“My parents wanted something more individual, and they came across fencing. They knew I was already kind of interested in it,” she said, so they signed her up for lessons.

Madeline fences with the epee, the most commonly used weapon in Georgia competitions. She competes in tournaments consisting of two rounds: pools and direct elimination. The tournaments she has attended have ranged from just three fencers to over two hundred. A fencing match, or bout, consists of two fencers trying to score points — called touches — by touching the other person with their weapon. When one is using the epee, the whole body is in play.

Fencing didn’t always come easy for Madeline.

“At first I was kind of nervous about it and it took me some time to be able to fence other people,” Madeline said. “It wasn’t just: Hey, you wanna go fence?”

After a year and a half of fencing, she competed in her first national tournament.

“I did absolutely awful, but it was cool to see all of that. It was a game changer. It set everything in place,” she said.

Madeline’s mother, Stephanie, described how fencing is like a large family, where many fencers will see each other at multiple tournaments and constantly give each other encouragement and advice.

“You can lose a bout and the other fencer will come over and say, ‘You know what, if you had done this move or that move, you could have gotten a touch on me.’”

Madeline says her parents have been extremely supportive of her fencing, saying that they “have always driven me to reach the next level, to be competitive and achieve great things.”

In addition to the moral and motivational support, Madeline recognized the physical and financial effort her family has put into helping her succeed by taking her to practice and traveling with Madeline to her national competitions, often turning them into family vacations.

Janowski fences against opponent at the 2017 North American Cup competition. (Special)

Her coaches also, she says, have been vital to her success, always giving her support and helping her practice, as well as just being there for her when she needs them. She found the fencing club she practices at because it was right near her house, but she has stayed with the club despite multiple new locations as she has developed relationships with her coaches and continues to learn from them.

Her coach, Kathy Vail, said that Madeline’s focus, determination and ability to set goals for herself are extremely impressive and are key reasons for her success. Coach Vail believes that Madeline is well on her way to a Division I NCAA Fencing scholarship.

“As a coach, it’s really a pleasure to work with a student like Madeline, who really enjoys her sport and understands the importance of hard work and really brings a lot to the table as an athlete,” Vail said.

What’s next?

Madeline is excited to compete in the Georgia high school fencing league, which will provide her with more competitions and more experience. She will continue to practice with Coach Vail at her current fencing club as she aims to improve and achieve even greater success.
As for her fencing, she’d like to continue to go as far as she can, perhaps to international competitions or play in the college league.

This article was written and reported by Max Goldstein, a student at Atlanta Jewish Academy.

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