Olympian Saber Fencer Monica Aksamit is ready for Rio and much more
The Voice of ….. Putting Men in Empowerment
“Strong women are essential for strong communities, and women’s empowerment is critical in accomplishing the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals. This is the first interview in a series of interviews with some strong women to get their take on how to ensure that both genders are truly empowered. Hopefully these interviews will also contribute to the process of empowering men to challenge prevailing norms and change conventional behaviors.” Check out: mauricebloem.com for other interviews — coming soon.
I hope to win a medal of some sort, ideally gold, but I would be happy with any medal. In the end, I hope that they think I am a good saber fencer and I am a good athlete. I hope that I prove that I deserve to be out there.
It would be the second time I’d meet with Monica Aksamit, a 26 year old saber fencer who qualified for the 2016 Olympics. The first time was at her fencing club, the Manhattan Fencing Center, close to Port Authority in NYC. The center is run by U.S. Fencing Hall of Famer Yuri Gelman. He is the force behind many of the U.S. fencing champions of which Daryl Homer, Dagmar Wozniak and Monica are his most successful pupils. And if the Pan American Championships held in June of this year are a prediction for the upcoming Olympics, there will be plenty to celebrate as the U.S. Fencing team with Dagmar Wozniak and Monica won gold after beating Mexico in the final.
I got into fencing at the age of 9. The coach of the fencing club used to go to the bank where my mother was working and he told her how cool it was. As it was a Polish fencing club, my mom was really enthusiastic about it, because she thought this could be a way of me learning how to speak Polish and something new as well. I fell in love with it from Day 1.
First time we met, Monica was suffering from a light injury, but she refused to take a rest and disrupt her preparation for Rio.
The training you just witnessed was short and light, because he wants me to have my back checked and rest it for a while.
Later that week it turned out to be a stress fracture in the L4 segment of her spine.
I have come from far.
A strong woman is someone that perseveres no matter what the circumstances are, even when everything is going against you. Opportunities are not coming to you, so you may create opportunities, you don’t just wait for them to come.
I had one of the worst seasons of my life last year, I almost gave up countless times, I would sometimes take a few days off, to think about what I am doing wrong, about what I should do, if I should keep on going. I was really close to quitting back in December. I got back on track and the coach said to me: “wow, I am really happy to see you again, I am actually surprised, I didn’t expect to see you again, but you proved me wrong”.
I keep on pushing.
With fencing we don’t really have sponsorships, companies are not really interested in sponsoring because it is such a small community. People don’t watch it, it is not really televised. People don’t really know what it is. So, why would companies invest in us? I have been funding myself, although since March I receive a little stipend since I qualified for the Olympics. I had to work too hard, do many different jobs so that I would have enough money to travel for the tournaments, but it was difficult. Then I started a crowdfunding campaign and I raised close to 14 thousand dollars. It is one of the main reasons I am here today. I still need more support to pay my way to go to the trainings, living expenses, tournaments and to eat. Yes, people should sponsor me. I am going to the Olympics and represent TEAM USA. Why should I not be sponsored? I still have a website where people can sponsor me:
If I don’t stick around I will go to grad school for nursing or to become a physician’s assistant, but I will probably try to qualify for Tokyo for the next Olympics.
When I explain to Monica that I walk a 100 mile every year to raise awareness and money about hunger and volunteerism, she is intrigued.
What drives my 100 mile? I would say, single mothers. I was raised by a single mother who sacrificed a lot for me. Despite the struggles to keep our house and provide us with food, she still made sure I could go and train for fencing. I am training with one of the best coaches in the world and it is all thanks to her that I am able to do it. She sacrificed a lot for me. My motivation for success is definitely my mom.
Any men you admire?
I don’t think so, the only person I really do admire is my mother. My parents got divorced, my dad didn’t do much for me, he didn’t want to pay for fencing, called fencing a luxury and nothing would come out of it. That was always the drive behind my fencing, to prove my dad wrong. When I qualified, the first thing I did was call him and tell him he was wrong.
What does women’s empowerment mean to you?
That women can do the same thing that men can do. For hundreds of years women were not allowed to vote and didn’t have equal opportunities. We are all athletes, we all work really hard, why should have one gender have more interest than another one.
What is the role of men in enabling women’s empowerment?
First of all, stop with the whole women can’t beat men, there are countless times that guys during practice get so pissed off that I beat them. I have more experience than them, I work just as hard as them, maybe even harder than them. They get super upset that they lost to a girl and I heard them say countless times: ‘If I ever lost to a girl then I will quit fencing, then I am clearly not good enough.’ That’s probably one of the first thing men should stop saying and doing.
Yes, as a fellow female athlete I can relate with the video Serena Williams made. They should stop saying things like you hit like a girl and other stupid comments. You might be faster than me, but there are still ways I can beat you, I can outsmart you mentally. People ask me what it is like to be a female athlete. Why are we any different? We are all athletes.
I mean I admire any of the athletes that are able to go to Rio, they are obviously the best in their sports in the world. I am excited to meet any and every athlete, they are the best at what they do. We have similarities, like the sacrifices we all had to make and it is great to be amongst like-minded people.
A final message for the readers?
Don’t underestimate someone just because they are a woman.
Check out: www. mauricebloem.com for more similar interviews in this series soon.