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Melody Lowman, Who Helped Save Stanford Fencing, to Receive 2024 U.S. Fencing Foundation Legacy Award

04/08/2024, 8:30am CDT
By Bryan Wendell

The award, presented at this May’s Fencing Foundation Fête, will honor Lowman’s work saving Stanford’s Division I fencing program and strengthening youth and collegiate fencing nationwide.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The headline in The Stanford Review, Stanford’s independent newspaper, was as succinct as it was sinister.

“Fencing Seeks to Remain Varsity”

In 2009, as Stanford University’s Division I NCAA fencers fought for touches on the strip, a more daunting fight was unfolding behind the scenes — to preserve Stanford Fencing’s status as a Division I sport. 

Melody Lowman was leading the fight.

As chair of the Save Stanford Fencing Committee, Lowman, mother of Class of 2010 Stanford fencer Chris Lowman, achieved the unthinkable and saved Stanford Fencing from the brink of defeat.

“With a team of remarkable volunteers, including Olympians, against all odds in 11 months we raised two years of operating budget, established an endowment and revived The Stanford Fencing Association,” Lowman says.

In recognition of those efforts — coupled with Lowman’s five decades of work to grow youth and collegiate fencing — the U.S. Fencing Foundation is proud to present Melody Lowman with the 2024 U.S. Fencing Foundation Legacy Award.

Lowman will be recognized and receive her award as part of the U.S. Fencing Foundation Fête, a Gala held May 9, 2024, where — fittingly — Lowman will be honored alongside the Olympians and Paralympians heading to Paris this summer.

“I was stunned when [Director of Major Gifts] Amanda [Lilly] called to tell me I had been selected by the USFF for the Legacy Award,” Lowman says. “My first thought was, ‘How do they even know what I do? So much of it is behind the scenes, or confidential.’ My second thought was, ‘There are so many people who are more deserving.’ And my next thought was, ‘I am so incredibly honored and grateful for the recognition of what I have accomplished, or attempted.’”

For more than 50 years, Lowman has worked with children and families as an educator, special educator, psychotherapist and educational consultant. 

Her work on behalf of fencing began when her son Christopher was 7. 

“He was often dressed up as a knight or a Jedi, so fencing was an obvious choice of a sport for him,” she says. “I spent many years as a fencing mom, while continuing my professional work.” 

That professional work included a variety of teaching roles — “from Headstart to medical students,” Lowman says. She worked with any student who needed her guidance, including both profoundly gifted students and children with severe disabilities. Early in her career, Lowman taught adaptive physical education to teens with disabilities to see whether it improved academic performance. (It did.) 

“With this background,” she says, “it was natural to incorporate fencing into my educational consulting.”

When Lowman’s son was in college at Stanford, the Division I fencing program was threatened with being turned into club fencing. That didn’t sit right with Lowman, who understood that fencing had been a tradition at Stanford since 1891.

“The coaches didn't know I had done volunteer fundraising, but they reached out to me for help,” Lowman says. 

That was the right choice, and Lowman helped revive the Stanford Fencing Association. 

The work included creating public events, selling campaign T-shirts, and especially identifying and courting donors. A generous anonymous donor allowed them to launch an endowment, but it was a transformative gift from Jimi Jung, a leader in educational consulting and fencing in South Korea, that turned the tide for good. 

In 2010, Jung — a Stanford alumni himself — made a $1.25 million donation to the Stanford Fencing program, helping preserve its future and extend the program’s life. 

It’s difficult and scary to speculate what might have happened if Lowman and her team hadn’t been successful, but we know what happened after their efforts. After Stanford Fencing was saved, the university helped advance the careers of student-athletes like Class of 2016 Stanford fencer Alexander Massialas OLY, who is headed to the Olympic Games Paris 2024 this summer for his fourth Olympics. 

Once Stanford Fencing was on solid ground, Lowman continued donning another of her many hats: educating young people (and their parents) about the path to fencing in college. 

“I had the pleasure of excellent advice from several fencing coaches, especially college fencing coaches,” she says. “I was able to offer free educational programs for prospective fencers, fencers and their families. On my professional website, I wrote ‘Advancing Toward College’ as a free resource for fencers and their families.”

Lowman also saw fencing as a great way to connect with young people — even those not intent on fencing in college. Through fencing outreach, Lowman has supported countless children, teens, parents, Scout organizations, and other after-school programs. 

“I’ve tried to make a young, or older, person's life better by encouraging them to try a sport they thought they weren't good enough to try, or encouraging a teen toward better sportsmanship, or courteously, but firmly, confronting a person who was violating a regulation,” Lowman says. 

Lowman says that therapists and educational consultants often don't know what the impact of their work has been. That is the nature of the work.

“But someone at USA Fencing and the U.S. Fencing Foundation noticed what I have been doing,” Lowman says.

Some might see an honor called a “Legacy Award” as a nice punctuation mark at the end of their time volunteering with an organization. But Lowman, who has continued fencing herself as a Vet fencer, isn’t planning to slow down.

“This Legacy Award inspires me to want to do more,” she says. “I hope it will give me more of a voice on behalf of young fencers. I hope I can contribute to USA Fencing volunteerism. I hope I can contribute to expanding youth and collegiate fencing, to promote inclusiveness of recreational fencing and parafencing. I hope to promote the scholar athlete, and most of all to advance the highest fencing traditions of sportsmanship, integrity and honor.”

Lowman says that Rita Comes (left) played a critical role in the campaign and deserves recognition, too.

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