Bellingham teen finds peace in fencing

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 9, 2014 

Bellingham Bay Fencing Association member Abby Barr, left, fences with Jason Lenz, right, on Thursday, June 5, 2014, in Bellingham, Wash.

EVAN ABELL — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Abby Barr countered questions from her fencing coach Rance Bayman with a few blinks of her eyes - nothing more.

She couldn't muster the ability to offer anything resembling an answer.

"I used to owl at him," Barr, 14, said in a phone interview. "I would just stare at him and blink. ... I was a very shy little fifth grader. I didn't like to talk at all."

Sports weren't her thing, either. Barr expressed little interest in anything other than watching baseball until her mother enrolled her in classes at the Bellingham Bay Fencing Association three years ago.

Even then, her quiet nature made embracing fencing difficult. In time, though, the uniqueness of the sport - the demand of mental toughness - captured her.

"I feel like it has a bit of creativity involved," Barr said. "You see what your opponent is going to do and you get to figure out what am I going to do to counter that. It's very intellectual."

Bayman watched on as a girl once fearful of raising her own voice became a nationally-recognized fencer, earning five bids into the 2014 USA Fencing Association Championships in Columbus, Ohio, in late June and early July.

"It's one of the rewards for doing this - the investment that I put in time-wise in watching kids develop like that," Bayman said in a phone interview.

With a laugh, Bayman remembers the tenseness in which Barr use to compete with.

"Her shoulder blades were almost touching her ears," Bayman said. "One of the techniques we work on is keeping the upper body relaxed to react quicker. ... She's learned to relax and now her form is very good."

At championships, Barr competed in the Division III Women's Epee, Division II Women's Epee, Junior Women's Team Epee, Y-14 Women's Epee and Cadet Women's Epee. Her strongest finish came in the Division III Women's Epee class, taking 72nd in the field of 117 competitors.

That finish was much to the surprise of Barr, who entered the competition seeded 85th.

"That's people above my skill level," said Barr of competing in Division III.

Nathan Cox was the lone other fencer from the Bellingham Bay Fencing Association to earn a bid to championships. Cox finished 101st in the 136-person field in the Division III Men's Foil.

"He's dedicated to it," Bayman said, "that's why he succeeds. ... He's a very tactical fencer, always thinking and planning."

Both he and Barr arrived, as Bayman recalled, reserved and shy.

Barr, albeit a good deal younger than Cox, found comfort and purpose in fencing. Before arriving there as a fifth grader, Barr said she suffered from a lack of self-confidence. Fencing offered something she had yet to find: something she was increasingly good at.

"I just get a feeling where I am doing something meaningful with my time and something I put a lot of effort into and that I'm proud of," Barr said. "I had low self-esteem, so just knowing people believed in me and that I was good at something helped me gain a lot of self-confidence."

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

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