Fencing for Canada on the world stage
By Jules Xavier – Shilo Stag
Lieutenant Belanna McLean of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Shilo Health Services is passionate about fencing as a true and serious discipline. “It’s hard, don’t let me say it’s not,” Lt McLean says regarding her chosen sport. “You need hand-eye coordination with your sword, plus you have tactics. It’s like playing a game of chess.”
Fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics, and is based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship. In competition, fencers score points through the contact with an opponent.
There are three forms of modern fencing, each of which uses a different kind of weapon and has different rules; thus the sport itself is divided into three competitive scenes: foil, épée, and sabre.
Most competitive fencers choose to specialize in one weapon only. “My preference is the épée,” says Lt McLean. “It’s more instinctual, with more of a target to hit. And there’s more risk involved with this weapon.” She adds, “I guess it depends on a fencer’s personality in what sword they prefer to use. For me it’s a mindset. I like the idea of hit or be hit. With the sabre, it’s fight and flight.”
Lt McLean is a member of the International Military Sports Council (CISM) fencing team. The sport has provided her with plenty of opportunities, including travelling overseas to represent the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on the international stage.
Born in Pembroke, Ont., Lt McLean had an opportunity to travel to Sweden to compete in the Nordic Cup. This was her second time wearing CAF colours. Team Canada won silver, with Poland taking gold, and Sweden bronze.
Lt McLean also faced male competitors, scoring a victory over her Swedish male counterpart. That was a highlight besides the team silver. Individually, she finished fourth.
With her mother a CAF clerk, and her father a now retired image tech, Lt McLean is no stranger to life as a military brat. “For the longest time I used to say I hated being called a military brat,” she says. “But by Grade 12 I looked at RMC [in Kingston] and following in my parents’ footsteps, but as an officer. I went in and applied, and have not regretted my decision.” It was while enrolled at RMC that Lt McLean was introduced to fencing.
“I was approached by the fencing coach, who said I looked like an athlete, and asked if would be interested in fencing,” she recalls. “So, I tried it out, and four years later I am still fencing, and now I get to go off to represent the Canadian Armed Forces on the world stage.”
With teammates from CFB Bagotville and Garrison Petawawa, Lt McLean is looking forward to the next CISM training camp. She is thankful Ottawa has continued to financially support her sport, giving CAF athletes an opportunity to take on military opponents who often have Olympic experience behind them.
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