St. Paul fencer heads to Summer Games


Fencing has provided Susie Scanlan with a lot of opportunities, among them an Ivy League education and world travel. But the biggest one of all lies just ahead.

The former Murray Junior High School student—her first name is really Susannah, but nobody seems to call her that—is a member of the U.S. fencing team that will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 27 through August 12 in London, England.

She’s not feeling a lot of pressure as the games approach, she said, because she’s rated in the middle of the pack in her specialty, epée fencing. On the other hand, it’s not at all uncommon for an underdog in her sport to do well. “On any given day, anybody has a shot at a medal,” Scanlan says.

That laidback attitude shouldn’t be confused with a lack of determination, according to her mother. “There’s an intensity about Susie, and she likes to win,” says Ann Scanlan.

A large contingent of Scanlan family and friends will be in London to watch Susie compete, including her mother, dad Jerry, adult sisters Josie and Katie, brother Sawyer, a junior at Como Park Senior High, Sawyer’s friend and classmate Drake Durand, as well as uncles and grandparents.

Susie, who grew up on St. Paul’s North End, is not completely sure of all the factors that made her want to try fencing at the age of 9, although “the sword-fighting aspect was certainly cool,” she says. Another appeal was that she had the sport to herself, because neither of her older sisters fenced. She has been affiliated ever since with the St. Paul-based Twin City Fencing Club.

Although she played other sports in grade school and at Murray, by the time Scanlan enrolled at Central High School, her mother encouraged her to concentrate on one and Susie chose fencing. She participated in several fencing summer camps and there met Zoltan Dudas, later named coach at Princeton University. Her rapport with him and Princeton’s program in astrophysics, which interested her at the time, convinced her to enroll there. (She’s now an economics major.)

Scanlan says competing at the top level in fencing and qualifying for the Olympics takes a “tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy,” which is why she is currently taking time off from her studies.

When Scanlan talked to the Park Bugle, she’d returned to St. Paul from a match in Brazil the previous day, ready to continue training for the London competition. Training included aerobic exercise with wedivights, sprints and yoga to help maintain flexibility.

As it turns out, Roberto Sobalvarro, her coach at the Twin City Fencing Club, will also coach the epée women’s fencers (the other categories are sabre and foil) at the London Games.

However things turn out there, Scanlan can’t envision herself competing beyond the 2016 Games because of the commitment fencing requires. In fact, she’ll probably be saying goodbye to the sport at some point. “I’d have a hard time doing this recreationally, after knowing how good I can be,” she says.

In the meantime, she’ll take some math courses at the University of Minnesota this fall, then get back to Princeton in the spring of 2013.

But not before she has the experience of a lifetime in the south of England, just a few weeks from now.

Roger Bergerson is a freelance writer and local historian who lives in Como Park.