Peter Gundunas, coach for the Soldotna chapter of the Kenai Peninsula Fencing Club, was hooked on fencing decades ago. And now he’s helping local youth get hooked on the sport themselves.
One sold an Xbox to buy fencing equipment. Another is off to college, with fencing part of the program. And others are still on the Peninsula, practicing four days a week at Skyview High School.
“I could see myself doing this forever,” said Jacob Malone, a 15-year-old Skyview student.
When he can’t walk, he can fence in a wheelchair, he said.
The enthusiasm doesn’t surprise Gundunas.
“If it grabs you, it’s like an obsession,” he said. “It’s the ultimate game.”
Malone said Gundunas, a teacher at Skyview, invited him to learn more about the sport one day, and he was immediately drawn to it.
“It’s being able to use both mind and physical ability in one place all at once,” Malone said.
The teen is active in other sports at Skyview, but loves the mental component of fencing.
“I am a thinker,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
Training for such a sport requires a combination of physical activity and practicing the motions.
“You have to actually do it and see what it is you’re doing,” Gundunas said.
Malone said that much of his training focuses on making the motions semi-automatic.
“You have to put your body on autopilot while you think,” he explained.
Last year, the team’s top fencer, Logan Patrick, was responsible for helping the team train, Malone said. He was also on the wrestling team, and often borrowed from their workouts to help his fellow fencers train.
The team would run staircases for about 10 minutes, do sprints, ab work and stretch, Malone said.
“And then we actually do some footwork, and then towards the end we actually start fencing,” he said.
Patrick left for college last month. But his role as a leader brought the Soldotna chapter of the club full-circle.
Gundunas started the Soldotna chapter after Patrick’s family moved from Homer to the central Peninsula.
“He’s really blossomed as a fencer,” Gundunas said.
The Kenai Peninsula Fencing Club was started by Wes Cannon about 20 years ago, in Homer.
“He was interested in swords and everything, the whole fantasy,” Gundunas said.
Cannon met with a few other guys a couple times a month. He got interested in making the weapons, as well as using them, Gundunas said.
The fencing club met at Homer High, through the community schools program.
Gundunas came to the Kenai Peninsula in 2001. He had a long history of fencing, including starting a club in Juneau.
“I’d fenced in high school and I’d always considered myself a fencer,” Gundunas said.
But he hadn’t fenced with the electric setup that is used for competition nowadays. That’s what Cannon was using.
“It was a big eye opener for me and I got really involved,” Gundunas said.
Then he moved to the central Peninsula, in part to further his education. There was no fencing presence at the time. When Patrick’s family relocated to the area, Gundunas decided the youth was too good to waste his talent. So Gundunas stepped up.
“I extended the Homer club and created a Soldotna club,” Gundunas said.
His goal is to introduce newcomers to the sport, and facilitate future Olympic hopefuls — like Patrick.
“He basically wanted to be the greatest fencer in Alaska,” Gundunas said of the youth. “And he is.”
But Gundunas said Patrick won’t be the only great fencer to come from the Soldotna club.
The team has a couple hopefuls coming up through high school right now.
Malone, who has competed in three tournaments, said that right now everyone on the team has a “U” ranking. Rankings are based on how an individual performs at tournaments. U is the lowest.
The ranking is set by a national body, and helps determine who fences at national and international-caliber meets. Gundunas said the team is looking for support to help get fencers to Outside tournaments, particularly the sectional tournament. But the Peninsula fencers also traveled to Anchorage for tournaments a few times this summer.
There is no team rank, and it’s entirely an individual competition, Malone said. Still, there’s a level of camraderie among teammates.
“It’s individual, but as a club we support each other a lot,” Malone said.