August 4, 2021

Fencing Talk with Catherine Case Szarwark: Want a Safe Sport? Play with Swords!

Case Szarwark

If you are looking for a safe sport, says Catherine Case Szarwark, forget soccer.  The three time all American epee fencer from Penn State University reports that recent studies place the injury rate for soccer players at or above the rate for football and basketball, with the rate of concussions equal to that of football players. And, adds Catherine Case Szarwark, forget about baseball.  Baseball has the highest fatality rate among children ages 5 to 14 of any sport in the United States.  Even cheerleading is far from safe, notes Catherine Case Szarwark.  With the growing emphasis on complicated stunts and acrobatic presentations, the rate of injuries in cheerleading have risen dramatically and have lead top calls for more emphasis upon safety precautions.

If you are really looking for a safe sport, Catherine Case Szarwark suggests epee fencing.  Yes, Catherine Case Szarwark recommends considering a sport where the objective is to poke your opponent with a piece of steel! While it is definitively counter-intuitive, a number of studies in the United States and Europe have documented that fencing is far safer than any major sport. But Szarwark notes than in all the years of fencing, apart from some bruises, her only real injuries occurred during conditioning.  There are two major reasons for this safety record.

First, according to Catherine Case Szarwark, the equipment used prevents serious injury.  Fencers wear layers of protective, padded clothing that protect against penetration, and spread the pressure of contact over a sufficiently large area to avoid any broken bones or internal damage.  Further, explains Catherine Case Szarwark, the weapons are blunted, and not sharp.  The epee and foil are also relatively light and flexible, further reducing the impact of direct contact to the fencer.  Fencers’ heads are literally encased in a cage that protects the face against contact, and Szarwark says that this protects the head from concussions.  In fact, the protective clothing worn in fencing sports is far better designed and effective than that used in any other contact sport.

Secondly, says Catherine Case Szarwark, the rules of the sport discourage overly aggressive behavior.  Fencers can be disqualified from competition for any conduct designed to injure another competitor, and officials police these rules conscientiously.  Further, points out Catherine Case Szarwark, overly aggressive behavior is self-defeating.  Emmanuil Kaidanov, the legendary Penn State University fencing coach who coached Catherine Case Szarwark, frequently taught his students that fencing requires a balance between defense and offense.  Bullying tactics or acts intended to intimidate an opponent inevitably require the fencer to abandon this balance and permit the opponent to exploit the openings thus created, according to Catherine Case Szarwark.  Unlike basketball, football, and soccer, where physical play is considered a part of the sport and encouraged, Catherine Case Szarwark notes that finesse, speed, and form are emphasized in fencing, and that overly physical conduct is the sign of a loser.

About Catherine Case Szarwark

For Catherine Case Szarwark, accomplishments came early in life. While friends were hoping to adapt to middle school, Catherine Case Szarwark found her passion. Szarwark started fencing in the sixth grade when a mini-fencing class was offered for physical education. She discovered that she loved it and possessed a rare talent.  Catherine Case Szarwark’s parents were supportive and her path to success began.

Catherine Case Szarwark spent six years at the Nashville Fencing Academy where she developed into one of the finest fencers in the country.  While attending Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee, Catherine Case Szarwark rose to the highest-ranking American epee fencer in the under-17 age category.  Her fencing for the American team took Catherine Case Szarwark to Italy and Germany, and Szarwark spent time at the United States Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she trained alongside Olympic hopefuls from all over the United States.

Upon graduation from high school, Catherine Case Szarwark elected to attend Penn State University where she fenced under the legendary Coach Emmanuil Kaidanov.  There, Szarwark compiled a record of 149 wins against only 35 losses, for an 81.0% winning percentage.  This remains the sixth-best in the storied history of fencing at Penn State University.  Catherine Case Szarwark earned all America honors three times, and was the captain of the Women’s Epee team in 2006-2007 when Penn State University won the NCAA National Championship. In speaking of this team, Coach Kaidanov singled out Catherine Case Szarwark for her leadership and dedication.

Catherine Case Szarwark also earned All Academic Big Ten honors, and finished with a 3.4 grade point average at Penn State University.  Szarwark now lives in New York City and has taught fencing at the New York Athletic Club. She works at NYU School of Medicine and is involved in Junior League of New York.


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