CHENNAI : The 10-year-old fencer stood straight with her shoulders thrown back. “It’s all about the footwork,” said Thitheeksha Balavenkat. “You have to be calm and focus on keeping your balance,” she said as she put one foot in front of another while bending her knees slightly. With her left hand folded over her hip and her right clutching the handle of an imaginary epee sword, she struck an en garde pose, a stance that most fencers begin their duel with.
The young enthusiast, who won a bronze medal at the International Fencing Championship held on September 2 this year in Bangkok, happily shared her fencing journey.
A year back, Thitheeksha’s mother, Jayashree Balavenkat, wanted to enrol her daughter in a sport that kept her mind and body healthy, rather than letting her child be cooped up indoors with a cell phone. “There was a sports summer camp for children at the Nehru Stadium and they were offering fencing classes. The coach, G Nagasubramanian, agreed with me that sports was the best way to keep fit. That’s when I knew that he will make sure that my daughter gets a medal,” she said.
Surprisingly, Thitheeksha did not take to fencing when she first began training. “She used to miss classes on most days and was not able to find the motivation to continue,” said Jayashree. The 10-year-old used to travel from Perumbur to Nehru Stadium every day after school to attend the 4.30 pm class. The first three months of training saw missed classes and a very tired Thitheeksha.
With a little pressure from her parents and an encouraging coach, Thitheeksha buckled down during her fourth month of training and swore to win a medal in this year’s International Fencing Championship. She began training for two hours every morning in addition to her evening classes. “All the students in my class were winning medals and I wanted to show them that I could win one too,” she said confidently. “Coach said that if I wanted to be fit for the competition, I had to exercise for around two hours every day.”
“There are three types of weapons used in fencing — foil, saber and epee. Epee is the most dangerous,” said Thitheeksha. Unlike the foil and saber, the epee weighs around 700 grams and is sharp-tipped. A full-body protective brace and headgear is worn while fighting with an epee. It is this weapon that she uses in tournaments. “You need to use a lot of force with an epee. You cannot just touch your opponent with the tip like with a foil or saber,” she said.
Thitheeksha and two others were chosen to appear at the Championship in Bangkok. A week before the first match, she came down with viral fever, risking her chance to win the medal she had promised to bring home. “I was advised not to appear for the competition, but I wanted to,” she said. With her eyes on the prize, a determined Thitheeksha recovered soon, and defeated four opponents on the day of the tournament before falling at the hand of a player from Hong Kong. “She was very good and had been training for long. Her footwork was really good,” she said.
At the semi-finals, she crossed swords with a Malaysian candidate that she had faced once before. “I missed the silver medal by one point because I got overconfident,” she said regretfully. However, she is happy to have lived up to her promise of getting a medal and is ready to represent India in the next championship, which will be held in the USA.When asked about her future plans, Thitheeksha responded with a brisk, “I want to be an IAS officer and a part-time fencing coach.”