The UC San Diego men’s and women’s fencing teams are heading into the stretch of the season, continuing to go up against the top squads in the country.Last year Chelsea Ambort finished 10th in the Nation in epee, and will look for a higher finisher this year.Ambort recently took time to discuss life as a student-athlete on the UCSD fencing team.
Q- How do you feel about where the team is at right now, with a little more than a month until the NCAA West Regional tournament?
AMBORT- I am really confident about where the team stands for Regionals. We have been working really hard this year and it has paid off so far. We have a lot of fencers that are in good standing to go to Regionals, more than in any other year I’ve been here, and a few of us are looking beyond to NCAA Championships.
Q- What adjustments have you made this season, after finishing 10th in the Nation in women’s epee?
AMBORT- Last year was a great achievement for me.This year I have made a few technical and tactical adjustments in order to try to repeat and improve my results. At Nationals last year, I lost a few bouts by just one touch when the score was tied 4-4. If I had won those I would have placed significantly higher. This season I have been working on perfecting one clutch move that I can count on to win me that last touch.
Q- What is a typical week like for you, with practice, training and studying?
AMBORT- Like most athletes, my week is nuts! I am on campus usually from to going to class, the library to get homework done, practice and then a late night class again. I also work bartending at a restaurant in La Jolla. This quarter has been especially busy since I have been working with TAC (Triton Athlete’s Council) to get the Athletics fee referendum passed.
Q- What other sports do you enjoy playing/watching?
AMBORT- Since I came down to San Diego I have really enjoyed cheering for the Chargers. I didn’t grow up watching sports but my roommates are big on football so we’ve always had the games on at our house and I was bummed when the Chargers lost. I also like watching soccer and basketball. I like to play any sport where I can be on the beach, but I’ve never been surfing and it’s something I’d really like to learn.
Q- What do you enjoy most about the UCSD coaching staff?
AMBORT- Our Head Coach, Heidi Runyan stepped up to the responsibility of the Fencing team when no one else would. I really respect her for that. Also, the fencing community in San Diego has been crucial in volunteering as assistant coaches. I have had a different epee coach every year but they all had great things to teach us. This year, Epee Coach Jens Stephan has emphasized strength and flexibility and is infamous on the team for killer conditioning practices.
Q- What are some of your earliest fencing memories?
AMBORT- I started fencing when I was ten years old at a summer camp. I got to choose three sports and I wanted to do tennis, swimming and sailing but my dad said if I got into sailing he couldn’t afford to buy me a boat so suggested I try fencing instead. After I got into it and began competing all around the nation and then world, it would have been cheaper to spring for the boat. Traveling with my team in high school was a great experience. I remember once my coach said if 4 of us made the top 8 at Nationals he would dye his hair green. I was the one he didn’t expect to make the finals but it was a great moment when I did and we got to dye his hair!
Q- What is your major and what would you like to do when you graduate?
AMBORT- I am a Political Science Major and I’m minoring in International Migration Studies. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do when I graduate but I know I’d like to work somehow at the US-Mexico Border doing something with immigration. I’m thinking maybe law or grad school but I plan on taking a year off first to travel first.
Q- Do you have any funny stories that you can share involving the fencing team?
AMBORT- The team has some great traditions of ways to motivate ourselves and each other. For example, we award ourselves with Starbursts if we get a 5-0 victory or beat a rival. Even though we could just go out and buy the candy ourselves its just something that makes us work that much harder. Or, once when I was fencing a touch bout for first place at a tournament in Irvine the whole men’s team decided to do the Cancan for every touch I got. It was so funny seeing the guys dancing around that I forgot to be stressed out and won the match.
Q- What has been your favorite Fencing road trip (in any year)?
AMBORT- Usually my favorite trips have been the one’s we fly to the Midwest for really challenging competition but last year we took a bus to Arizona and it was one of the best trips ever. We took home five out of six first place trophies at the tournament and were able to relax afterwards. We got to go swimming in the pool at our hotel and we played “Bear/Ninja/Cowboy” (a game like rock/paper/scissors) on the bus back home. We were all very proud of our results that weekend and we really connected as a team.
Q- What is the most challenging part of fencing, that an outsider might not know?
AMBORT- The hardest thing is maintaining a balance between the mental and physical aspects. Some people have called fencing ‘physical chess’ since you are always having to anticipate your opponent’s next actions and adapt to them. There is an initial strategy going into any given bout but everything can change in a split second and you are all on your own on the strip, making your own decisions. You have to constantly be focused but if you aren’t physically in tune you can’t respond quickly or correctly. It is a tough balance between being intense but not tense.