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USA Fencing Selects First Quarter Fencing Spirit of Sport Recipients

11/30/2017, 6:00pm CST
By Kristen Henneman

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – USA Fencing is pleased to announce the 2017-18 season’s first group of recipients for the “Fencing Spirit of Sport” Recognition Program, recognizing six members of the fencing community who have exemplified outstanding dedication to the sport and are an inspiration to others.

Each quarter, one recipient from each region is chosen based on commitment and dedication to the sport as well as his or her club, respect, teamwork, inclusion, passion, sportsmanship and character.

The six recipients for the first quarter’s “Fencing Spirit of Sport Award” are as follows:

  • Arik Shurygin (Beaverton, Ore.)
  • Clint Smith (Chicago, Ill.)
  • David Copeland (Frederick, Md.)
  • Leslie Taft (Placentia, Calif.)
  • Michael Mergens (Houston, Texas)
  • Maia Slowinski (Winter Garden, Fla.)

All selections will be honored at the 2018 USA Fencing National Championships in St. Louis and will receive a USA Fencing “Spirit of Sport” t-shirt and bag tag.

Nominations for the second quarter are due January 15. The nomination form can be found here.

More information on each of our winners can be found below:

Arik Shurygin
PDX Fencing
Age: 17
Weapon: Saber
Number of Years Fencing: 4.5
Nominated By: Claire Randall (Parent)

Combining his passions for fencing and helping others, Shurygin helps the younger fencers both on and off the strip, staying after his own class two days a week to help assist classes, participating in drills with anyone who wants more practice, helping with homework or being available for others to talk to. At tournaments, Shurygin cheers on all of his teammates, not wanting to leave until everyone is finished. After being named the captain of his school team, Shurygin made sure he could do the best possible job by taking a leadership class. Outside of fencing, Shurygin volunteers during school breaks at the food bank and food pantry to help other families – all while dealing with diabetes and wearing a pump full time.

“His fun, outgoing spirit combined with his drive to excel in everything he does keeps him highly motivated and energetic,” Randall said. “When asked by others why he stays so late after his own daily three-hour training session he always answers, ‘It's fun! I love seeing the newer fencers “get it” and I remember what it was like to want to progress faster!’"

Clint Smith
Lincoln Square Fencing
Age: 40
Weapon: Saber
Number of Years Fencing: 20
Nominated By: Kathryn Jackson (student)

Smith founded Lincoln Square Fencing nearly a decade ago to give more people access to fencing and show that it can be a sport for anyone. Smith loans new students all the necessary equipment and develops individualized instruction to suit each fencer, whether that be group practice, lessons or one-on-one coaching. He works with parents to help manage goal setting for both practice and competition, and has opened several summer camps. Also, to give his students different perspectives to the sport, Smith has hosted international fencers and coaches.

“His passion is clear as his goal is for each student to "quietly" advance in his or her own space versus obsessing over wins,” Jackson said. “Clint role models grit to his students and,these days, that's everything.”

David Copeland
Out of Nowhere Fencing Club
Age: 42
Weapon: Epee, foil and saber
Number of Years Fencing: 25+
Nominated By: Greydon Tolson (Student)

As the owner and a coach at Out of Nowhere Fencing Club, Copeland has found a perfect balance with his students. He is laid-back while passionate about fencing. He inspires competition, but ensures each fencer understands how to be safe and enjoy all aspects of the sport. He teaches the history of fencing to create a broader understanding. In addition, the club encourages mentoring between the experienced and newer fencers. Combined with the various ages of his students, Copeland has created a club with a family atmosphere.

“We have become not just a club, but a family, with concern for each other,” Tolson said. “I have never known him to become upset or angry with any student. He is always encouraging, giving only positive correction.”

Leslie Taft
Desert Fencing Academy
Age: 62
Weapon: Epee, foil and saber
Number of Years Fencing: 30+
Nominated By: Laura Holmgren (Coach in the Orange Coast Division)

A volunteer tournament organizer in the San Bernardino Division for many years, Taft is a role model to all the fencers who compete at her events, exhibiting dedication, integrity and positive sportsmanship. She is always welcoming to new fencers, treating beginners with patience and respect to make sure they have a positive experience. And as a coach, Taft not only teaches her students how to fence, but how to be better people.

“Attentive to the experience of the fencers in the tournaments she organizes, Leslie provides an excellent experience for all competitors,” Holmgren said.

Michael Mergens
Houston Sword Sports
Age: 63
Weapon: Foil, epee and saber
Number of Years Fencing: 34+
Nominated By: Kirsten Crouse (club member)

Mergens wears many hats in the fencing community, including armorer, coach, club owner and referee. With nearly 35 years of experience in the sport, Mergens is a member of the USA Fencing SEMI Committee and has served as the team armorer for many USA Fencing national and international events, such as the 2015 Junior and Cadet World Championships. He has founded several clubs in the Houston Area, three of which have been in business for over 20 years. After Hurricane Harvey, Mergens volunteered his time, helping clubs in the area clean up and recover from flood damage.  

“Mike personally helps fencers with college recommendation letters, teaches parents and fencers and is just out a giving, wonderful person,” Crouse said.

Maia Slowinski
Garden Fencing Academy
Age: 14
Weapon: Foil mostly, some epee
Number of Years Fencing: 6
Nominated By: Jennifer Seachrist (Coach and Club Owner)

At 14 years old, Slowinski dedicates the majority of her free time to fencing, practicing four days per week and competing at every tournament that fits her schedule. Slowinski’s attitude toward competition is admirable as she says that she’d rather lose to a better fencer than win due to a technicality. When she is not fencing herself, she is known for helping out with events, classes and camps at her club. At tournaments, she is always watching and supporting her teammates. She enjoys the camaraderie and has made many friends, always willing to help other fencers, even if that means giving a weapon to a stranger who will use it to beat her. 

“Maia works hard at everything she does, and is never satisfied with average,” Seachrist said. “When she is not fencing, she spends her time helping the community. Each year she organizes a drive for a local battered woman's shelter. She spends weeks collecting what is needed, then she and a group of her friends wrap these gifts and throw a Christmas party at the shelter.”

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