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Olympic Fencing: Indianapolis Club gives inside look at the sport

The nonprofit club has been around for more than 40 years and helps teach athletes the skills and techniques to compete.

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Olympic history continued for Team USA and Indiana athletes on Sunday.

Notre Dame alum Lee Kiefer won the USA’s first-ever gold medal in Women's Individual Foil Fencing. This is the first time any American has medaled in the event. 

The centuries-old sport isn’t always the first competition people think of when they talk about the Olympics, but there are a lot of fencers with Indiana connections competing in Tokyo.  

More than half a dozen fencers are from Notre Dame.  

The Indianapolis Fencing Club helps teach new and experienced athletes the skills and techniques to compete. The nonprofit club has been around for more than 40 years.  

Bill Winget, president of the club, said the sport is often called “physical chess” because it exercises both your body and mind. Whether you have experience or not, he said it’s easy to have fun.  

“It’s not hard to start and have fun,” Winget said. “If you want to get really good, it takes a lot of practice because it’s all muscle memory and you can’t think about it, you just have to react.” 

Winget has been fencing for more than 20 years.  

Credit: Lauren Kostiuk/WTHR
The Indianapolis Fencing Club currently has 85 members and continues to grow.

My son wanted to try out fencing when he was 12, and I took him to a class at the Indianapolis Fencing Club, and I was sitting on the side watching and the coach came up to me and said, ‘You are here anyways, why don’t you take the class?’ So, I did and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.  

Winget said many people aren’t familiar with the sport or don’t even know it’s available to them.  

“Once COVID goes away, there will probably be a tournament every weekend within driving distance from here,” Winget said.  

There are three kinds of fencing: foil, épée, and sabre. Each one uses a different kind of weapon and has different rules. 

“I am mainly an épée fencer. The whole body is the target and there is no right of way,” said Samuel Thomas, an 18-year-old fencer from Fishers.  

Thomas started fencing four and a half years ago. His favorite part is competing.

“As a kid, I was always liked Star Wars, ninjas and Power Rangers. I like seeing them in action. It just really mesmerized me, and I wanted to do that,” Thomas said.  

The club currently has 85 members and continues to grow. 

Tom Hanahan first discovered the sport with his son, Nick, who was 10 at the time.  

They went to a local fencing club that was a mile down the road from their house. The two loved it and took more lessons. After going to a fencing tournament in Louisville, Nick started competing in national tournaments.  

“Fast forward 10 years, he was fencing at Notre Dame and winning national titles. It’s been one of the most enjoyable rides that a parent could have,” Hanahan said.  

Nick Hanahan has fenced three of the four men that are competing in Tokyo, winning some of those matches. He was also co-captains with Lee Kiefer, who won the USA’s first-ever goal medal in individual foil. 

After an injury, Nick left the sport, but Tom continues to compete.  

“There aren’t many sports that a guy at my age can go fence a 20-year-old kid and kind of hold their own,” Hanahan said.  

Credit: Lauren Kostiuk/WTHR
The non-profit club has been around for more than 40 years.

He said the fencing community is tight-knit and welcoming, adding it’s one of the very few sports that draws people from all around the world. 

“It’s very tactical where you have to think two or three steps ahead — all the time,” he said. “It’s kind of like boxing, you are moving back and forth, and it can be exhausting.” 

With the Olympics putting a spotlight on the sport, the club hopes it will inspire more kids and adults to give it a try. 

“I can say that it is definitely possible to make the Olympics coming from a club in Indianapolis if you are dedicated and commit yourself to it,” he said.  

Several members of the club have gone on to NCAA Division I schools, including a few to Notre Dame like Hanahan’s son.  

The club is completely run by volunteers. It’s open to men and women ages 8 and up. 

There are a variety of classes to try. You can sign up here