When Ann Marsh was in the eighth grade at The Roeper School, fencing coach Jon Zelkowski started her off on the school’s fencing team. Before she finished college at Columbia University, she had made the women’s fencing team for 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, the first of three Olympic games she would compete in for the sport.
“I was very athletic and played a lot of sports at Roeper. I really focused just on fencing at Columbia. Fencing was really popular then at Roeper, and they had a high school team. The coach there started me off. He was really charismatic – he’d come in extra, let us use his equipment, and drove us to competitions,” Marsh recalled of coach Jon Zelkowski.
“Fencing is a club sport, and there were a couple other schools we could compete against locally,” she said.
Graduating from Roeper in 1989, she headed to Columbia, in New York City, because she said a majority of the top women who were strong in fencing were in New York then. “Michigan then didn’t have a lot of sparring (partners), and in New York there was a lot of different styles and competitors.”
She made her first Olympic games in 1992, while in college, “when the United States team wasn’t that good internationally,” which has changed.
After the Barcelona games, fencing became her life and focus for a while. She moved to upstate New York, to Rochester, where she trained full time for two-and-a-half years with a national coach, Buckie Leach. Luckily, she had qualified for a grant “just in the nick of time.”
Training full-time, which she said includes traveling and competing on the road about 140 days a year, is not only so difficult it’s hard to do anything else, but extremely costly, as well.
“There were World Cups all over the world. Most of the time they were in Europe, though I remember one in South America,” Marsh recalled. “Now fencing is so much more global. They’re in China, Tunisia, South Korea. I went to one in Seoul, I recall.” Both the men’s and women’s teams each have three different events to compete in, “and there are different weapons in fencing.”
Besides competing in the ‘92, ‘96 and 2000 summer Olympics, Marsh won a bronze medal in the team foil event at the 2001 World Fencing Championships in Nimes, France – and said she missed the bronze “by only two touches” in the 2000 Olympics. She was simultaneously attending medical school from 1996-2000 in Rochester, New York.
While she said she didn’t win any medals in the Olympics, “I was the first person to do well on a senior level, and made the finals, meaning the top eight, in 10 world cups and three Olympics.” Roeper has also put her in their Hall of Fame.
Now a practicing emergency room physician and mother of two, she continues to fence by not only competing but coaching at Renaissance Fencing in Troy, where her husband runs the program. And in 2016, for the Rio games, she was captain of the fencing athlete delegation.
Her daughter and son have picked up fencing foils, and have begun to compete as well, “but they play a lot of other sports too.”
Photo: Jean Lannen