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Fencing: Senior walk-on reflects on her unlikely path

Conor Kelly | Monday, January 23, 2012

When senior fencer Christina LaBarge took a beginners fencing class at 13 years old, it would have been difficult to predict that eight years later she would be a student at Notre Dame, a college athlete and a member of a national championship team.

Many fencers start young, but the California native took a non-traditional road to a spot on the Irish fencing squad with hopes of defending its 2011 national championship.

“I started fencing at 13, and it was just for fun,” LaBarge said. “Then when I was 15, I tore my ACL. It was a freak accident that doesn’t happen too often in fencing, but the year I had to take off for rehab really made me want to get serious when I returned.”

LaBarge’s rededication to the sport prompted her to look forward to the possibility of playing in college. Already a junior in high school and a relatively inexperienced fencer, however, LaBarge knew she would face an uphill battle.

“I basically relearned the entire craft during my junior year,” LaBarge said. “I knew that I wanted to fence in college, but I also knew I wasn’t in a position to earn a scholarship or be recruited.”

LaBarge’s former coach had a former pupil fencing at Notre Dame, a stroke of good fortune that helped strike a connection between LaBarge and Irish coach Janusz Bednarski.

After meeting with Bednarski during a visit to campus, the coach invited LaBarge to try out for the team provided she get into the school on her own. Like many fencers in a scholarship-poor sport, LaBarge had no help getting through admissions.

“There is a large number of us on the team who are walk-ons,” LaBarge said. “Many of us are alternates at meets. There’s quite a range of abilities, and sometimes I feel out of my league, but overall it’s been a really good experience.”

Despite her relative inexperience and lack of fencing pedigree, LaBarge contributed greatly to the Irish as a freshman and sophomore, compiling a 44-18 record over that span.

LaBarge’s junior year was a wash, as she opted for a semester of studying abroad in London instead of participating in the fencing season. LaBarge said it was one of the most difficult decisions she ever had to make.

“I talked to my coach about it, and he gave me permission to go during the season,” LaBarge said. “It was something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it was really strange being gone. I really missed the team a lot, and it was agonizing to see them going to the national championship. You just had the sense the whole year that we were going to do it, but I couldn’t be a part of it.”

Luckily for LaBarge, a Monogram club member, she still has one year left to pursue that goal. Even with a number of top athletes lost to graduation or training for international competition, the Irish are still among the top teams in the nation.

“This is a good opportunity to show that we have a deep team,” LaBarge said. “I think we could definitely do it. It will take a lot of determination and persistence, but I think it’s possible.”



Contact Conor Kelly at [email protected]