Going into high school, Rachael Clark didn’t like sports.
When the freshman épée, who was recently named to College Fencing 360’s weekly honor roll, was first introduced to fencing when joining her friend at a lesson, she didn’t even own a pair of sneakers.
From that first lesson, however, Clark was hooked.
“I actually loved it on the spot,” she said. “I was ready to commit.”
Clark’s family and friends thought her new interest in fencing was a joke.
“Everyone thought it was really weird,” Clark said. “It was different than what all my friends were doing in high school.”
Within months of that first lesson, Clark was traveling to compete against other fencers. She joined the Vivo Fencing Club, where there was only one other girl that was her age. The rest were boys.
“Girls fence a little differently,” Clark said. “Guys are more physical about their fencing and girls are much more of the mental game, so I think that was a big adjustment and something that was harder.”
Being one of two girls in her age group, Clark was forced to fence the boys on a regular basis. She said it made her stronger.
“[Boys] are so much more aggressive and do not get afraid of that,” Clark said. “Physically they’d hit so much harder. There is zero fear factor.”
When it came to selecting a college, Clark’s parents wanted her to choose Temple. When visiting, Clark was sold on the team atmosphere, coaching staff – led by Nikki Franke – and the fact there were other women to compete with.
“They were girls, so that was so exciting to me,” Clark said. “I visited other schools and I felt that the fencers were just fencers, whereas here they have other interests … not just fencing. And I really liked that.”
Living in a big city has been a transition for the Boxford, Mass., native.
“I definitely lived in a little bubble before, so it is really nice,” Clark said. “I love meeting the different people. It’s totally a different experience.”
At Temple, Clark has realized the obstacles that come with being a student-athlete.
“It is definitely about time management and organizing, and I learned that very quickly … I have to plan a week before so I know I can get everything done,” Clark said.
The competition in her sport has also been a step up.
“It is so much harder here,” Clark said. “It is so much more work, and I think there is a lot more pressure to do well and always perform your best … it is my job. That is how I look at it.”
“We will have days off and I will get so bored,” Clark added. “I just really love it. I find it fulfilling. I find it worth the time to invest in it. Then on those days off, I get so bored that I want to get back to practice.”
That hard work has not gone unnoticed by her coaches. Assistant coach Anastasia Ferdman said Clark has been steadily improving.
“It is a big change to switch to college fencing,” Ferdman said. “She is listening all the time. She does what I expect her to do, she tries new things. That shows that she is growing as a fencer.”
Clark won all 12 of her bouts to lead the No. 9 Owls to an undefeated record at the Philadelphia Invitational last month. She also contributed to Temple’s recent victories against No. 7 Northwestern, No. 8 Penn and Cornell. Clark also topped two-time NCAA entrant Gabby Floor 3-2.
“I’m never completely satisfied, there is always work you can do,” Clark said.
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Mikeg2511.