Jan. 21, 2014
Benjamin Brockman, Student Writer -
Senior fencer Ariel DeSmet seems to continually find himself in the right place at the right time. While fencing probably never would have been an option for him growing up, DeSmet found himself in an opportune situation at the age of 9 when a fencing coach stopped by his grade school.
"Fencing can be an expensive sport, and at the time my family didn't have a lot of money, but this fencing coach came in and gave a bunch of people free lessons," DeSmet says. "The coach saw that I was doing well, so he just gave me some old fencing stuff. I kind of fell into it, and I made things work. I've stuck with the sport ever since."
It was a lucky turn of events that his first coach showed up to offer lessons, allowing DeSmet to become initially involved with the sport, but his luck did not stop there.
Out of high school, DeSmet wasn't really sure what he was going to do with his life. He had moved out and was working part-time as a waiter and part-time as a fencing coach. He didn't have the premeditated idea to fence collegiately, and was still contemplating whether he would go to college, but, as luck would have it, DeSmet found himself, once again, in the right place at the right time.
"I wasn't competing all that much, but they had a big national tournament in Portland. I ended up competing and doing really well, and that is what started the whole conversation [with Notre Dame fencing coach Gia Kvaratskhelia]. It was really kind of chance, and the right circumstances," DeSmet says. "We got the ball rolling, and the next thing I knew I was coming to one of the best universities in the country. It was a life-changer, and I give a lot of thanks."
While it was a few fortunate events that led DeSmet to the Notre Dame fencing team, DeSmet knew that it would take much more than good timing to succeed at the collegiate level.
"Hard work and complete dedication," DeSmet says. "You have to spend a lot of time and effort to get better."
This hard work and dedication became clear in DeSmet's first year of competition. DeSmet sported a 28-1 win-loss record in his freshman campaign, won the NCAA Foil National Championship, and was voted to the First-Team All-American squad.
"I feel like I had a lot to prove in coming here, [to show] that I was a worthy investment," DeSmet says. "I trained. I was running and doing push ups. I devoted everything to that national championship, and ultimately it paid off."
DeSmet says that even though struggles came in his second season, these will not blind him from his ultimate goals.
"The following year I didn't do as well because I had this pressure on me, that I had already done this great thing. You don't have quite the same drive," he explains. "Moving forward, I know what my motivations are, and I feel like I know what I need to do to make it happen this year. I'm working towards it even now, in the offseason."
While DeSmet found himself in many fortunate situations in his life, he knows that luck would never be something that he wants attributed to his fencing.
"There is another national championship coming up and I intend to be there and contend well," he says. "People can get lucky. I would never want my success to be attributed to luck, and I don't think that there is any way you can win a national championship twice from luck. So, I would like to prove that I really deserve that and that I earned it."
DeSmet has seen much success in his fencing career, but he says that he has also received a great deal of support along the way.
"I have had an all-star cast of coaches. My first coach is now an assistant coach at Penn State," he says. "My second coach, Michael Marks, was a five-time Olympian, who really knew his stuff. Gia, my coach here, was an outstanding fencer back in the day before he started coaching."
While DeSmet seems to thrive in the competition, he still has a passion for the sport itself. DeSmet says that what makes the sport of fencing so enjoyable for him is that it is both a mental and a physical competition, citing that the sport has been called physical chess because of the need to tactically strategize each and every movement that one makes and carry these maneuvers out with high precision.
"The reason I love it is because it is a really big mental challenge. You have to be very strategic and tactical mentally, but you also have to be able to execute that at a very high level," DeSmet says. "You can't be all thought but no action, but at the same time you cannot [simply] be a physical beast. If you are not out-thinking the opponent, it doesn't matter how strong you are, you are still going to be beaten."
DeSmet's success and expertise of the sport prove that he is a great fencer, but he says that he is still conflicted on whether he will attempt to participate at an Olympic level.
"I am kind of at a crossroads in my life right now. There are no professional fencers. It is not football or basketball, you cannot make money off of fencing," he says. "I love the sport, and I haven't yet officially made an Olympic team, which is a definite goal of mine. So, I really need to find out a way to get the funding and have the opportunities to train after I graduate college, to pursue an Olympic run in 2016."
If DeSmet decides not to follow his Olympic aspirations, he knows that Notre Dame will have prepared him for whatever comes next.
"In order to maintain decent grades here and compete at a national championship level, you have to be able to work," DeSmet says. "I think that work ethic will give me an opportunity to succeed in anything that I do."