Dressed in head to toe white, faces hidden behind wire mesh masks, right hands covered in a durable glove, a Marietta mother and her son prepared for battle Wednesday in a racquetball court in Marietta College's recreation center. The outfits might seem a little elaborate-and indeed they would be if the family was wielding rackets.
Instead, Susan Vessels, 41, and her 9-year-old son Aaron leveled their swords at one another.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Susan Vessels, left, and her son Aaron, take part in a practice epee fencing bout Wednesday afternoon in a racquetball court at Dyson Baudo Recreation Center.
A fencing enthusiast since her childhood, Susan has recently reinvigorated her passion for the sport-a passion she hopes to share with her children and a handful of other community youth.
"Fencing keeps you fit. It's challenging. It inspires respect for your opponent," she said of some of the sport's many advantages.
Vessel's opponents likely have a lot of respect for her as well. Two weeks ago, she took home the bronze medal United States Fencing Association National Championship in Columbus.
Fencing shifted from a military training tactic to a sport sometime in the mid-18th century and was bolstered by the formation of a fencing academy in London.
Fencing was the preferred sport of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Olympics, and has been a part of every modern Olympics competition.
Fencing scoring is based on touching your opponent with your sword. The first player to score a predetermined amount of touches is the victor.
In epee fencing, the entire body is the target area and a touch is scored by hitting an opponent with enough force (750 grams) to depress the tip of the sword, which is recorded by an attached electrical device.
Source: Times research.
Thursday, Susan returned to Columbus with Aaron was one of the youngest competitors in the national championship.
Aaron, the oldest of Susan's three children with husband Ethan, started practicing the sport at his mother's request, but it did not take too much convincing.
"It's the only sport with a sword you can fight with," he exclaimed.
Aaron is ambitious, always asking his mother to practice more advanced moves. Wednesday, he cited concern that he will be one of the smaller competitors at nationals.
"(The bigger kids) have longer arms so they have a better reach," he explained.
But as the entire body is the target in epee fencing, Aaron is also a smaller target. Not to mention, he has already has some awards to his name-a fifth- and third-place finish in his age group at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fencing Classic over the past two years.
Susan began fencing again in early 2013 after a nearly 20-year hiatus. In college at Princeton University, she and a teammate were the 1995 NCAA Epee Women's Team Champions. She also competed internationally in Switzerland and Italy.
She said she was worried the long hiatus would make it hard to get back in the swing of things. But a few competitions proved her wrong and gave her the confidence to become certified as an instructor and begin teaching the sport to a handful of children around Aaron's age.
Children in the local club, Marquis de Lafayette, received instruction for several weeks leading up to both the 2013 and 2014 Arnold Classic and were given the opportunity to compete.
While Aaron's siblings-Eli, 5, and Olivia, 3-are still too young to compete, Susan is hoping to also introduce them to the sport around age 8.
For now, they are content to play act.
"They love putting on the gear and running about," she said.