It seems fitting for a book lover like North Vancouver fencer Zoe Clarke that her path onto the podium at the Canada Summer Games should have a number of twists and turns and even a couple of do-ordie moments.
The Handsworth secondary student - she starts Grade 11 this fall - took up the unique sport of fencing in an equally unique way. It all began when she was just 12 years old.
"I read a book and there was this girl who did fencing and I had no idea what fencing was about," she said, adding that she can't even recall now what the book was called. The fencing heroine, however, struck a chord and spurred the sporty pre-teen to head to her local rec centre and seek out an introductory fencing class. She tried it and, though she still didn't really understand what was going on, loved it.
"I thought this was something just different and fun to do and I stuck with it," she said.
Skipping a few chapters in Clarke's own story - she hooked up with the North Vancouver Fencing Club under the tutelage of Zbigniew Pietrusinski - we come back to her appearance in the sabre competition at last week's Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que. Our young hero looked like she was about to make an early exit. Facing Saskatchewan's Maia Stempien, the No. 1-ranked fencer in the event, Clarke fell behind in their quarterfinal match 6-12. Three points from elimination - it's a race to 15 points - Clarke stayed calm and fought on.
"I was thinking, 'You know what, a bunch of people probably think I'm going to lose right now. I just have to kill it.' I just went for it and just kind of breathed and made sure I would get each touch, point by point."
The hits kept coming, eventually leading to a 14-14 score that meant next point wins. Clarke faked forward and then stepped back, a move that stopped Stempien cold in the middle of her own attack. Clarke then pounced, ending that match with a slash that rattled right off her opponent's face mask.
"It was a do-or-die moment," she said. "It felt amazing. I was actually crying after it, I was like, 'I can't believe I just did that."
Clarke then won her semifinal to reach the gold medal match against Quebec's Rach Lamarre. She fell behind again, trailing 10-14, but slashed her way to four straight points to face, yet again, a next-point-wins showdown.
"It was really intense," said Clarke. "Everyone was silent in the crowd."
But, like most great books, this one didn't have a perfect fairy tale ending.
"I was going to finish under her arm and she counter-attacked me because I lifted my arm just a little bit and it was one light," she said. "I really wanted to win it. At first I was really disappointed but I was proud that I got the silver medal because I fought so hard for it and it was really close."
The story, however, didn't end there. Later that same day Clarke got one more crack at the podium, pairing up with good friend Robyn Cando of Port Coquitlam in the team final.
In the championship match against Alberta, Cando handed Clarke a big 15-9 lead in the march to 20. Things got a little tight when Alberta pulled within one at 19-18 but Clarke again stayed cool and cut the comeback short.
"We both really wanted gold and we both knew that we were going to do it," she said, adding that being on that podium was the pinnacle of her young career so far. "Being up there was so amazing, the support from the crowd, you can hear everybody cheering. It was absolutely phenomenal."
Clarke now has her sights set on making the national team with the long-term goals of competing in world championships and the Olympics. But she'll always remember the story of her first big Games.
"It was such a cool thing to be a part of and representing B.C. was absolutely amazing."
North Shore athletes took home several more medals in Week 2 action at the Canada Games. West Vancouver's Alix Kong reached the top of the podium, winning gold in the women's team golf competition. Team B.C. also scored gold in men's baseball with a squad that included West Vancouver's Maximillian Wood, North Vancouver's Brandon Marklund and North Shore Twins players Anthony Cusati, Keenan Williams and Bradley Smith.
The success on the fencing piste continued with both Connor Hopkins of North Vancouver and Shant Basmadjian of West Vancouver earning silver medals in team
events. The men's soccer team also came up silver with North Vancouver's Robert Hamilton and West Vancouver's William Barrie and Michael Mauro suiting up in Blue.
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