By Barry Barbe
Across The Street Columnist
It started with a Rum cake.
Actually, it started long before that, but this is when I recently became reacquainted with Patricia Waples. On that occasion, she presented me with an Apron from Cordon Bleu in Paris where she attended cooking classes, and a homemade rum cake as proof of her culinary prowess. We sat and chatted about her life and fencing.
Having lived a transcontinental life, Pat’s is full of unique experiences, and fencing just happens to be one of those.
“The sport is 500 years old and the most polite of sports. It’s a gentleman’s sport.” She says. “I don’t only teach fencing, I teach good manners, good posture, English, and sportsmanship.” Pat adds. “You salute when you begin the match, you shake hands, and you salute the spectators. It is a very polite activity.”
Her career in fencing began in 1947 while in college, after which she took a break and began fencing again while living in England. “I was in England and thought, I would get back into the sport. However, the clubs had no coaches, so I was asked to begin coaching.”
“I’m probably a better coach than a fencer.” She admits.
Michael Fenech, who began training at The Prescott Racquet Club at the age of 10 describes Pat as “The most amazing human being ever, who teaches through an approachable and calm manner.” Currently working on his PHD is Stem Education at the University of Texas at Austin, Michael trained under Pat until entering college participating and placing in conference, college and club championships at various levels under her guidance.
Currently at age 92, Pat continues to coach, or guide individuals through the process of gaining an appreciation for the sport Tuesday and Thursday evening at the Howard James YMCA.
Pat’s roster of local students reads like a Who’s Who of Prescottonians and personalities.
“The ages range from eight to well over fifty, coming from a variety of backgrounds and careers. Eight is the youngest I like to start teaching, as they have the ability to maintain attention and listen.” She says, her oldest student was 82.
Several of Pat’s over 300 students, have gone on to compete in college and start their own clubs throughout the country. Currently, Pat has 15 students at the YMCA.
“To the spectator, the physical difficulty of fencing is deceiving.” Michael adds. “Unlike some sports, Fencing requires use of entire body from lower and upper as well as the core.” “You’re in a three-minute match lunging and moving all while staying on your feet the entire time. And here, you have Pat, this little lady who you have to respect for her knowledge and ability to achieve results as she instructs you.”
The sport has experienced continued growth over the years, “It’s one of the original Olympic sports and has been an event in every one since.” “It’s much more popular in Europe, and requires a level of respect and sportsmanship that is not always recognized in other sports, with personality aspects not often associated with competitive sports.” Pat says. “It’s often referred to as a physical game of chess.”
In the most elementary of definitions, fencing has a rather simple premise. While wearing the Lame, a fabric covered tunic with a metal mesh underneath, the goal is to touch your opponent with your weapon, a Foil, Èpèe, or Sabre, all utilized with a range of difficulty and style. Matches last three minutes between two fencers and points are awarded until one fencer earns five touches, or points in a bout. All while conducting a variety or aggressive and defensive moves including, lunging, parry, while in the Fencing Piste, or alley. However, it takes years of commitment and dedication to achieve the level of play many of Pat’s students have.
With her first love of horses, an appreciation and involvement in both equine sports and fencing run in the family. All four of Pat’s grown children have fenced at one time or another. Her son, Steve was a pentathlete (fencing is one of the five events), her daughter Debbie competed in the Olympics as a fencer, Linda attended college on a fencing scholarship, and Sandy was captain of the first Air Force Academy fencing team.
One of her favorite memories was when she and her three daughters competed in, and against each other at the nationals in Oregon. “I didn’t win she demurs, like I said I’m a better teacher than a fencer.”
By the way, the rum cake was delicious.