Jazzy Shepard looked up and down the fencing strip and noticed something disconcerting.
She was the only girl there.
“I mean, who’s interested in sword fighting? Little boys!” she said, smiling at the decade-old memory. “I had a hard time because it was all boys.”
Shepard didn’t return to fencing for a while, but her mother, Tami, a former collegiate fencer, was determined. “I am not a good soccer mom,” Tami said. “I really dislike sitting in the rain.”
Tami kept putting her daughter into summer fencing camps, and slowly, the sport grew on Jazzy – her given name is Jazmine, “but I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been Jazzy.”
Finally, four years ago, Jazzy hung up her soccer cleats for good, much to Mom’s satisfaction.
“I had gotten bigger by then, and I could beat the boys,” Jazzy, a 17-year-old senior at Columbia Adventist Academy, said. “And there were some girls at the camp.”
Just because Jazzy got serious about fencing, though, didn’t mean immediate success. The Portland area is renowned for developing champion fencers, so for the fencing newbie, Jazzy’s’ first season was a succession of defeats.
Last year, Jazzy earned second-team High School All-American status in the epee, and in October, she won the classification round of the North American Cup in Anaheim to earn her A rating – the highest level of competitive fencing.
“I made it out of pools and lost the first day by one point, and I was super sad,” she said. “But my coach (Justin Meehan) said this is the only time it was OK to lose the first day, because I earned my A.”
In December, she fenced in a Division 1 tournament in Portland, advancing out of her round-robin pool and making it to the elimination round of a D1 tournament for the first time, although she lost in the first round to Victoria Mo by a 15-6 score.
About Orion Fencing Club
Orion Fencing is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to developing fencers from throughout Clark and Cowlitz counties.
Coach and director Justin Meehan hopes to start varsity fencing programs at all 16 Greater St. Helens League schools – he’s fostered clubs at Columbia River at Union so far – as well as partner with the Vancouver Veteran’s Administration to create a wheelchair fencing program.
He considers fencing a lifelong sport like golf or tennis. “Our oldest beginning fencer is 74, and our oldest competitor is 73,” the eight-time national gold medalist said.
Learn more about Meehan’s vision and how to get started as a fencer.
“I definitely met my goal,” said Jazzy as she relaxed in a comfy chair at Orion Fencing Club in Vancouver. “I fenced Division 1A the last two years, but Division 1 is a whole another level. People who are in the Olympics fence Division 1.
“But at the same time, I lost a couple of matches 5-4 that would have given me a better seed. So, while I did well, I could have done better.”
The first weekend of January, Jazzy ventured to Virginia Beach for another North American Cup, where she again made it to the elimination rounds before suffering another first-round loss.
She’ll next compete at the Junior Olympics in Memphis, Tenn., in February. It will be her fourth trip to the Junior Olympics, qualifying by virtue of her standing in the regional epee rankings, but it was her inaugural appearance that set her fencing career on its current path.
The 2014 Junior Olympics tournament was held in Portland, which was the only reason Jazzy entered.
“It was challenging at the beginning. I came in last for my entire first year,” she said. This tournament was no different – at least in the foil, which was the weapon Jazzy had used throughout that season.
But at that Junior Olympics, she also tried the epee for the first time. She won a couple matches during pool play and even though she lost her first-round bracket match, “winning a couple matches made me feel better,” she said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I should give epee a try.’ “
Jazzy likened the difference between foil and epee to skiing vs. snowboarding. “Foil is a good weapon to start on because it enforces good form,” she said. “Epee is the easiest weapon to be OK at, but the most difficult to be amazing.”
As Jazzy describes her craft, her eyes light up as she leans forward in her chair. A straight-A student at Columbia Adventist who is taking AP Environmental Science at Battle Ground High School, it’s clear she loves the chess-like aspects of epee fencing.
“Epee is full of decisions. You have to think ahead three moves,” Jazzy said. “It just made more sense in my brain. In foil and sabre, you have to hit with the right of way. But in epee, the person on the counterattack has the advantage, because there’s no right of way.
“You wait, wait, wait, and then there’s this quick movement. Blink, and you’ll miss it. But as long as you can outmaneuver your opponent and hit them, the points count.”
Hot or Cold
Italian or Chinese food
Cat or Dog
Beach or Mountains
Tom or Jerry
Batman or Superman
Heads or Tails
Foil or Sabre
Titanic or Saw
Criminal Minds or Law & Order
Hamburger or Hot dog
Ketchup or Mustard
Meehan, who has coached Jazzy for nearly four years, said the freedom from the strictures found in foil and sabre fencing allowed Jazzy to thrive.
“In epee, the rules don’t protect you. You have to protect yourself, and that worked for her,” said Meehan, a former national gold medalist from Long Island, NY, who moved to Vancouver in 2012.
“Jazzy has always been a hard competitor. She finally has gotten the faith in her ability to not just move correctly but analyze situations correctly. This being her senior year, this is when it all comes together. She’s seen enough high-level fencing that she can put it all together.”
Now with her A-rating in hand, Jazzy can pursue bigger goals. First, she must re-earn her A-rating – it’s good for four years but can be renewed each year. Then, there’s getting past the first round of the elimination bracket, earning ranking points that would allow her to get into any tournament and avoid qualifying rounds.
Finally, there’s choosing her college path – she wants to study oceanography, and UC San Diego has both a strong fencing program and a strong oceanography program.
“I’m not a national champion, and the last couple of years, their program has become really stacked because it’s one of the only West Coast schools with a fencing program,” she said.
If she can’t get into UCSD, she’s also been accepted at Cleveland State University, which offers fencing as well as an environmental science program.
No matter what, though, she won’t be giving up fencing.
“Ten years from now?” she said. “I hope to still be fencing, still be competing nationally. It’s not just a sport. It’s the atmosphere here, then the sport.”