A day in the life of the captain of Durham Women’s First Fencing Team

By Laura Lovegood

On a Friday at 9am, I received an email from Team Durham reading ‘Laura, call me now’. I then take time out of my two-hour tutorial – on my 50% summative due next week – doing some last-minute organisation for the Championship Match against Oxford. I came to ask myself: why did I sign up for this?

Well, I did anyway. I did because deep down, I really enjoy being captain. When I attended my first fencing novice session two and a half years ago, I had no idea that I would eventually become Women’s First captain and compete weekly with my team. I travel all over the country, from Birmingham to Aberdeen.

According to my friends, fencing has taken over my life. I don’t disagree with them. Training five times a week, and competing every Wednesday – either at home or away – does not give me much chance to do much else outside of fencing and studying.

My days have become fairly routine. Mornings are a rushed affair. I’ll usually get up at 7, have breakfast whilst packing my bag, get my lunch and dinner out the fridge – as I won’t be home until midnight – and make myself a coffee to take to the library. This coffee and morning routine are crucial to me surviving the fatiguing first two hours of the day where I study. No surprises that I always feel that I’d much rather still be in bed.

The rest of the day runs pretty smoothly. Lectures are rare, and reading is plenty – I study social sciences. I appreciate the days I have training as I feel it’s a nice opportunity to get out of Elvet Riverside. By now, I know most of the YUM baristas at Maiden Castle by name, and I don’t even have to tell them what coffee I want. They know my order virtually by heart. And at the end of the day, the night guards always wish me a goodnight, and comment on how my Canadian hockey beanie is suitable for the 8pm cold.

I see my friends most often in the library. And on the rare occasion where I don’t, it turns into a massive exercise on time-management.

Sometimes I wonder whether in ten years’ time I will regret having missed experiencing university life: I’ve missed most of my College events, I’ve missed all of the Union society’s controversial Friday debates – even though I am a life member, I’ve hardly been on nights out – I tend to have six a year, five of which are after exams, and I’ve also missed most of my friends’ brunches and movie nights.

I could quit; I have considered it a few times when times got tough. On some evenings I feel terrible – either because I don’t concentrate, or because I am just too tired. My intense training sessions do not help when I feel myself drowning with work. I love fencing, but training sessions can be physically and mentally draining.

However, fencing has contributed immensely to my overall development – be it psychological, emotional or physical. These qualities are something I wouldn’t give up for the world. So when my college friends ask me, for instance, why I hadn’t attended my College Masquerade Ball a few weeks ago, I told them it was because that I didn’t want to miss training.

It’s not just that I fancied stabbing something at the end of a busy and stressful week. Indeed, you could even say it’s about my addiction to becoming better. But most importantly, it’s about seeing the other fencers – incredible people who have now become my great friends.

Being captain isn’t always easy. But I have always enjoyed the idea of leadership. We had an extremely strong women’s fencing team this year. To be honest, on one occasion we even got close to beating the year-long Premiership Champion Edinburgh Women’s First, without even fielding our full team. But alas, we didn’t. Neither did we reach the semi-finals in the Championship.

People kept on missing training, or even deciding to drop out entirely. I couldn’t have forced them otherwise. Tutorials until 1pm on a Wednesday when you’re a finalist are hardly compatible with fencing away every other week. I also can’t force my teammates to train when they have personal problems or injuries. I totally understand, and would never dare blaming any of the girls.

But I guess that I could have been more successful at motivating people to come to training, and to instill a greater team spirit. If I had been a bit more assertive, we might have done better.

Overall, I guess it is always all a question of perspective. What I mean is you decide how you feel about things happening to you.

I could decide to be annoyed at myself for lacking the right amount of firmness, to feel burdened by the responsibility I carry for my team’s performance, to perceive the amount of time I spend at training or matches instead of in the library as a source of anxiety, given that I still fear academic failure more than anything. Or I could also constantly worry about my friends eventually giving up on me because they feel that I don’t put much effort into seeing them.

I could. But I don’t. I prefer to see these problems as challenges and as opportunities to prove myself that I am capable. My best friend told me: “If I’m feeling buried, it’s because I’ve just been planted.” To fail now, is to flourish later. And it’s something I thought was very meaningful.

Photograph: Kris Moodley

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