Sometimes your toughest opponent is not amongst the other competitors ...
Winning is not always about beating your competitors, sometimes it's about defeating your own self-doubts, taking the unexpected in your stride and making the best of every situation.
If you can't stand the heat ...
One of the least talked about aspects of being a competitive fencer is how adaptable you must be to any given environment. How you must accept things that are out of your control. How you should press metaphorical buttons and switches to cope with change. In a nutshell, it's about digging deep and finding the endurance to carry on when you most feel like giving up.
And so it was for me at this year's England Youth Fencing Championships, held at Hertfordshire Sports Village on 17 June. The British weather in June doesn't usually provide much cause for concern beyond the odd downpour on centre court at Wimbledon. However, in an unexpected twist of fate this year, 17 June was the hottest day of the year so far. Record breaking temperatures made it feel like the hottest day ever - more like summer, smack bang on the equator!
The competition starts to warm up
I arrived at about 9am to warm up and be ready to start at about 11am. Put it this way, warming up was a bit unnecessary - I already had a body temperature hitting the higher Celsius! Fortunately, I had packed spare kit so comforted myself with the knowledge that I could at least change 4 layers of sweaty kit during the day.
I also had with me plenty of water, cold-pressed smoothies and food. Or so I thought. Rapidly the temperature was getting to me and my body was starting to protest. I had already devoured my noodles with salad vegetables and lime dressing (a mum speciality) with lots of water by 10.30!
I started my opening poule which is a set of six fights to five points which will then determine your ranking, and the tableau of direct elimination fights. The first three fights were great. I can't remember them clearly but I managed to win them all 5-0. Then it was time for my fourth fight. I won it 5-1. I was a bit annoyed about dropping a point but it then became clear that there had been an error and I had fenced the same fencer twice! So I hadn't dropped the point. Unfortunately, hot, confused and too weary to realise, I had expended useful energy on an unnecessary fight. After this the poule seemed to drag a bit but I only dropped two hits in the whole six fights and ended up seeded first.
I needed to eat, drink and drink some more. Which I did. Despite packing two full family cool bags full of good stuff, I was getting through it like a swarm of starving locusts. My last 64 fight came around. I won 15-1. I felt good, but also hungry, thirsty, sweaty and hot!
My last 32 fight. Bam - won it. Last 16, 8-0 down, I came back to win 15-9. Then my quarter-final against one of my club mates. I won. Once the fight was done I could not utter a word. I lay down on the piste, wasted, sighing that I felt 'dead'.
It aint 'alf hot mum!
Luckily my support team (Dad, Mum, Coach Dom and Coach Pawel) kicked in. Even my trusty England Fencing Team Managers, Lorraine and Eileen got involved. They took me off to the coolest part of the building where I stripped down, rehydrated and ate sandwiches that had been bought from the venue cafe.
When I came back into the room for my semi-final, I had been allocated the most understanding, humane referee on earth who said that it was fine, I could take my time and it wasn't his plan to start boiling fencers alive! I was grateful, even if I was still achingly hot.
I started the final. It was tough going and I just wanted to be done. But I kept the faith, I stopped my head from spinning, persuaded my body not to give up and tried not to fantasize about spending my entire PGL sponsorship on ice lollies ...
And guess what? I won. I took the heat and was rewarded by becoming the England Under-15 Boys Foil Champion 2017.
By the time I had the podium pictures taken, I was a little cooler, more composed and of course, there are always photo filters to help tone down a red face!
However, I learned that in real life you can't always filter out the unexpected, all you can do is prepare yourself to deal with whatever circumstances and the British weather, throw at you, adapt as best you can and come out fighting.
A huge thank you to Mum, Dad and the rest of the team for their ongoing support, sandwiches and water when most needed!
By Rafael Rhys Pollitt.
Read more about Rafael here.
If you'd like to try fencing as part of a multi-activity holiday at PGL - more information can be found here.