“I am finally here. We are not going to get pulled out because of COVID-19. We are not going to get pulled out because there’s a storm. It’s happening now, ” said fencer Maggie Shealy ’23.
Shealy had worked hard for this moment. She had already made it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Championships for fencing in her freshman year, but this was different. This time she actually got to compete.
“She was fencing in the NCAA regional, and she didn’t really eat anything or drink anything. So, she ended up having a really bad cramp. Every time she scored, she screamed in pain, but she ended up winning the bout and qualified for Nationals. She proceeded to head straight to the hospital right after,” said fencer Lucas Lin ’22.
After all of that though, Shealy would quickly learn that she would not be able to compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she knew that once the season started again, she would be back to get a chance to compete at Nationals.
Shealy started her career as a fencer when she was very young. She recalled watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” when she was five and realized she wanted to do something with swords. When Shealy got the opportunity to observe a fencing demonstration, she saw saber fencing and stuck with it because she thought it was the coolest. At a young age, she started fencing saber at a local club before transitioning to various clubs as she got older and better. Eventually it became time to look at fencing in college.
Some of the top fencers compete in World Cups and sometimes even the Olympics before they go fence in college. She was not a part of that pool. Shealy wasn’t even fencing at her high school considering they did not have a saber team. When it came to looking for colleges to fence for, she originally was thinking that she would just be a benchwarmer or walk-on.
“I had always known Brandeis had a very great program and it was run by a good coach … So, I reached out to Coach Jennie … She brought me on campus, and we did a little recruit tour. I got to see the campus and I got to talk to the teammates. I really liked the team and that’s what really got me,” said Shealy.
Eventually she decided on Brandeis. After a mixed first year and a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shealy was getting ready for her biggest season yet. “I was missing competing with my team … I do a lot of individual competitions nationally outside of Brandeis and it’s just not the same. You don’t get the joy of turning around and yelling at your team when you win a point or when you win a really close match,” said Shealy.
Her first competition back was at The Big One at Poughkeepsie, NY. The first competition is normally a way for the players to get into a competing mode, so Shealy was not completely focused on the results. However, she ended up winning the women’s saber competition.
“It felt very rewarding, and it made me feel like I still got it,” said Shealy.
The rest of the season had its moments, however Shealy specifically recalls how great the win against Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was. “It was a complete team effort, and everyone was yelling for everyone else. We were cheering and fencing our hardest,” said Shealy. Although Shealy liked to win, she also really liked to win as a team. Shealy believed that a lot of her success came off of the support of her teammates.
As the season was closing, Shealy had one last chance to make a push for Nationals. She made it to the final round at the Northeast Regional championships but ultimately did not perform as well as she wanted in that round.
“To have a very strong season and have it shadowed over by a not-so-great performance at Regionals. I personally felt like I deserved to go to Nationals. I deserved to represent my team and Brandeis deserved to go especially with how hard we were working this semester,” said Shealy. Even though she didn’t finish as well as she wanted in Regionals, her solid season combined with the Regionals finish got her a spot at Nationals.
After almost three years, Shealy finally was going to get to fence at Nationals. Teammate Tony Escueta ’25 also made it to Nationals and the two traveled together with the coaches to the University of Notre Dame.
“Maggie is one of the most talented fencers I’ve ever met and in addition to that she plays the role of team captain and there is the weight of a lot of responsibility, and she sets a great example for everyone,” said Escueta. “I credit her for a significant amount of my competitive success due to her support and being a good teammate.”
While there, Shealy was constantly thinking that this was a dream and that the experience was amazing overall. “It just kept replaying in my head over and over again, oh my god it’s happening,” said Shealy. The first day of competitions was particularly memorable because she dropped two bouts to start. She then proceeded to go 10-1 for the rest of the day. Shealy remembered looking back at the coaches and her teammate after each win and seeing their support made the day even better.
“Being able to know that my coaches, my team and my school were very proud of me gives me that extra boost of serotonin to do better at the competition, ” said Shealy.
On the second day, Shealy fought hard for each point even though she was behind. In the end she finished in eighth place overall in her first time at Nationals. This allowed her to finish second team All-American for saber. She felt like she earned her spot after how hard she practiced throughout the season and played during the competition.
“I was really honored to stand on the podium with so many other amazing fencers. To be able to say, I can stand with them even though I don’t have the same international experience as them… As a collegiate fencer, I get to stand there with them and hold my trophy too,” said Shealy.
Next year Shealy is set to be a captain for the first time. She has set individual goals including making first team All-American, but she also has set broader goals about the fencing team overall as she looks to maintain the hard-working community. Overall, she is excited for what the next season might bring as she continues to maintain one of her simplest philosophies.
“I can’t predict the future. The goal is just to fence who is in front of me,” said Shealy