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Our World of Sport: University of Kent Fencing Club's Caroline van Eldik


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Caroline van Eldik is in her final year studying International Business in Canterbury and represented the Dutch national team at the World Championships in 2016. She’s the current vice president and former women’s captain of the University of Kent Fencing Club which has recently been named University Club of the Year by their National Governing Body, the British Fencing Association.

The University of Kent Fencing Club which has recently been named University Club of the Year by their National Governing Body, the British Fencing Association.
The University of Kent Fencing Club which has recently been named University Club of the Year by their National Governing Body, the British Fencing Association.

RECENT AWARD

British Fencing hand out awards every year, in which they recognise the best clubs, along with the best university clubs. We applied and they chose us as the best in the country!

We gave them a long list of everything we had achieved and what they probably appreciated is that, despite not being very big, we made quite a big impact on the community around us. The university recognised us as well a few years back, naming us sports club of the year. We have managed to maintain this success throughout the past few years despite not being one of the larger clubs. Last year we probably only had half a year of competing because of Covid and despite that it was probably one of our most successful times ever, we were competing everywhere all the time. It has been crazy to see how much success we have had in a short period of time.

GETTING INVOLVED

I have been involved in fencing for about 10 years now, so before I came to university I knew I was going to join the fencing club.

It happened to be a wonderful club so I am very lucky. I am originally from the Netherlands but have moved around quite a bit and went to a school in America. I have also lived in Germany and Switzerland.

The University of Kent's fencing team
The University of Kent's fencing team

WHAT IS THE APPEAL?

I wouldn’t know where to start, it has everything. My mum is Hungarian and fencing has always been a big sport there and so she randomly suggested it one day and I loved it.

I have always seen it as an individual sport but since coming to university it turns out that you can do fencing as a team sport too and that has opened my eyes to a whole new approach to everything, I have totally become a team player since. I love that you can do it individually, do it as a team and starting from when you are 12 until you physically can’t walk anymore. For most athletes their careers end at like 30-odd but you can keep fencing forever and that is really amazing.

DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES

I have specialised in epee and since coming to the university and being women’s captain, I learned the other two, which are foil and the sabre.

When we fence as a team we use all three weapons and I have needed to help fill in the gaps in our team where we’ve been short at times and it has been fun, learning something new despite having fenced for 10 years.

There is a big difference, in terms of rules, what they look like and the skills you need. Most people start fencing foil because it is the one that is most in the middle, if you have a good foundation in foil then you can branch out and learn to be a good epeeist and a good saberer. You wouldn’t be able to do that if you started with epee or sabre quite as easily.

Caroline van Eldik is in her final year studying International Business in Canterbury
Caroline van Eldik is in her final year studying International Business in Canterbury

MANY NEWCOMERS?

Yes, we get so many of them. We have a really good coaching system in the club and have managed to get complete novices join us and then by the end of their time they are fencing for their first team competitions when we travel to Paris and around England.

It is amazing to watch their growth and it makes me really excited that they have become so passionate and so determined to do well and enjoy themselves.

LOCAL LINKS

We have a really good relationship with our local fencing club, Mallard.

Our coach Patrick Stillman also coaches there and whenever he goes he usually takes half of our club with him for training. It is lovely because it gives us more time to train, and gives the locals some fresh young people to fence with. We have a yearly battle - the University usually come out on top but I think last year they beat us for the first time in a while!

Action taking place at the University of Kent Fencing Club
Action taking place at the University of Kent Fencing Club

HOW SAFE IS FENCING?

We have great protective equipment, we are always looking to make sure our health and safety is fully updated, because you are literally trying to stab someone for fun. You want it to remain fun.

We do come home with bruises but that is all part of it, nothing bad ever happens when we look after our health and safety properly. We do a lot of risk assessments to make sure we don’t cause any accidents. You would be dangerous without the safety equipment. You have to wear a mask at all times, along with thick layers of jackets and breeches. It is a weapon, it is not pointy or sharp, but you would be able to poke someone’s eye out so safety is very important.

Fencing isn’t one of the cheapest sports, you can’t just buy yourself a football and get on the field. We provide everything for our students from breeches and masks, to weapons and body wires.

Most of it is not typically within a student’s budget so for us to be able to provide safe equipment makes the sport so much more accessible to people who want to try it but probably wouldn’t if they had to pay for it all themselves.

WORLD STANDING

I think British fencing is great, there is good competition here, it is pretty big. I have previously fenced in Germany where it was also very big and probably a bit bigger, but I definitely wasn’t disappointed when I came here.

The level of competition other than at university is very high and I am constantly being challenged when I go to competitions so that is great.

Fencing at the University of Kent
Fencing at the University of Kent

AFTER STUDYING?

Because I am not quite ready to let go of this fencing club and everything that comes with it, I am currently running in my leadership election at the university for the students union.

If I get that job then I get to stay for another year and I fully intend to dedicate my life in full to the club again because it is just something I have loved so much.

With Covid this year, being vice president has actually meant that I was the person dealing with all the paperwork that needed to be done in order for us to be allowed to practice our sport on campus.

For us, we have our student union and we have Kent Sport - two very separate bodies - and I had to be the link between the two, speaking to both and filling out endless risk assessments and statements from our governing body saying it was okay for us to practice the sport.

We have had no fixtures this year unfortunately, our captains have tried hard to organise training. We were allowed to train in September and October and did strength and conditioning and tried our best to keep active and fit with a limited time slot we were given to practice our sport.

Obviously we can’t do anything at the moment, most of us are spread all over. I am in Germany so don’t even know what it is like on campus right now. We have tried to keep our members as engaged as we can online and we have challenges and countless quizzes and socials, but it has not been quite the experience we would have hoped for our new members this year. We have been trying to keep people active and that is important for people’s mental health because they are so used to working out 20 hours a week.

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