By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When a fencer begins to learn the sport, she usually chooses a weapon early on and sticks with it. There are three choices: foil, epee and sabre. Each weapon has its own personality and comes with its own rules of play.
For 59-year Niskayuna resident Kim Lorang, the clear choice was a sabre.
“If you want slow and deliberate, pick foil [or] epee,” said Lorang, a fine art printer who spends her days perfecting images for artists and photographers. With the foil and epee, only the rounded tip can be used to score a point from an opponent. Two skilled fencers engaged in a bout with these weapons might go 15 minutes without a single score between them. Strategic and intellectual, the game is often compared to chess.
But using a sabre, fencers can stab or slice to gain an edge. The long edge of the blade is fair game against an opponent. Lorang said this reactionary, fast-paced version of the sport is more like checkers. A five-minute bout, ending at 10 points for Lorang’s age category, would almost always take less than five minutes.
One might expect such an intense variety of fencing to appeal to young fencers with energy to spare. An ideal age to enter the sport, Lorang says, is about 8 years old. By that count, she missed the boat by 50 years.
Lorang, who focused on field hockey as a younger athlete, mentioned in passing to her husband that she found fencing interesting. Then she forgot the conversation altogether, so she was surprised when he gifted her lessons in the strategic sport for her 58th birthday.
Many veteran fencers get into the sport because their children take lessons, but Lorang is an exception to this, too. Her three children are all in their 30s, so she was motivated solely by curiosity.
Nearly two years since she got started, Lorang will turn 60 next month and is ranked sixteenth nationwide in her veteran age group. In fencing years, that’s not even nearing retirement age. National qualifiers this year ranged into their 80s.
Older fencers are anything but frail. Lorang dons 12 to 15 pounds of protective gear for bouts. Practices are two hours long at the fencing club she belongs to. Multiple times each week, Mark Dolata’s students face off in a former school gym without air conditioning.
Dolata, who opened his own fencing club in Schenectady eight years ago, is Lorang’s sabre coach — and her peer as a fencer. Dolata is 67 years old.
“I may not be the youngest kid on the block, but I can still move my legs,” he said.
But if his brain stops, he’s done. “Youth will not overcome age and treachery,” he said with a laugh. “Older fencers in their late 40s are still a threat to fencers in their late 20s or early 30s.”
Dolata said Lorang’s ability to join fencing at a mature age illustrates a quality of the sport that he has always loved. “When you are young, you make up with speed and agility, but once you are older, it’s your intellectual capability” that makes a good fencer, he said.
“If I stop thinking, I start losing immediately,” he said.
Lorang shares his affinity for the self-discipline and focus. In fact, she remarked that the deliberateness of fencing is what sets it apart.
“Fencing is not sword fighting,” she said. “What you saw in ‘The Princess Bride’ is sword fighting. They’re all over creation.”
The July 17 edition of Your Niskayuna incorrectly stated that fencer Kim Lorang is ranked eighth nationally in her age group, Vet60WS. In fact, she finished eighth out of a field of 13 at this year’s Summer Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, on June 23. Nationally, she is 16th on the most recent United States Fencing Association national Vet60WS ranking.