By Bill Buell
Different people take up fencing for different reasons.
For 57-year-old Clifton Park resident Mike Jones it’s a chance to work up a good sweat. And for Iroquois Middle School 8th grader Peter Meshkov, a member of the Niskayuna varsity wrestling team, it’s an opportunity to use his brain a bit more than his brawn.
Jones, Meshkov and about two dozen others make their way to the Capital District Fencing School two or three times a week to work on what is one of the oldest sports in the world. They are coached by L. Mark Dolata, who started his school at the St. Anthony’s Early Childhood Center on the corner of Van Vranken Avenue and Raymond Street 12 years ago. Dolata also has a location in Troy.
“When I was 9 my father took me to a competition and I was mesmerized,” said Dolata, who was born in Poland, moved to Nigeria when he was 31 and then came to the U.S. in 1984 to work as a civil engineer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “I always wanted to do it, but my father got sick and with my family situation I couldn’t do it. I had to do what was required. Not what I wanted to do.”
For the last 12 years, however, Dolata has done exactly what he’s wanted to do; teaching the art of fencing to young and old alike. Some of this students, such as 59-year-old Kim Lorang, are ranked in their age division by the United States Fencing Association.
“I have around 26 people involved right now, and some of them compete regionally and nationally like Kim,” said Dolata. “She has done very well, but I also have a lot of young kids who are just starting out. It’s a very complicated sport, and it is my passion. I call it an age equalizer because boys that are 14 can beat someone who is 40. And someone who is 40, can beat someone who is 21. It’s a combination of mind and body, and it takes a while to get good at it.”
It hasn’t taken Meshkov long to get good at it. Already a member of the Niskayuna High varsity wrestling team at the 120-pound division, he has been fencing for about five years. He got interested in the sport even earlier when his parents read to him the classic Alexandre Dumas novel, “The Three Musketeers.”
“I think they were reading the book that was adapted for children, but I really liked it and was interested in learning how to do it,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the sport because for me it’s not too physical. It’s a mental game and when you go out and compete it’s a lot of fun. I love going to a tournament and placing, or beating someone who you lost to earlier. Every now and then that is happening, and it’s very satisfying.”
Jones, meanwhile, got involved in the sport because he was taking his son to Dolato’s classes.
“My son was doing it, it looked like fun, so I decided to try it,” said Jones, who has also competed in regional competition. “My doctor told me I needed some more exercise, and I thought this would be more fun than using a stationary bike at some gym. I work up a sweat and I really enjoy it.”
Jones said that Dolata’s coaching style makes practicing fun.
“He’s terrific, he’s really good at explaining things to you,” said Jones. “He has tremendous knowledge, and he’s very encouraging. He focuses on what you’re doing right, and gently corrects you if you’re doing something wrong.”
By Bill Buell