Mycah Slade finds her footing on the fencing mat.
ycah Slade was 8 when she took her first stab at fencing. And, like many athletes, the 17-year-old senior at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School believes she didn’t find fencing – it found her.
And the best part about it? She gets to lie and get away with it.
“I love fencing, dancing gracefully up and down the strip,” Slade tells BLAC. “The strip” – that’s the playing area for fencers – “is my dance floor. Fencing is all about finessing.”
But, Slade says, fencing is “lying to your opponent and getting them to fall into your trap. I look at it as a physical chess game. You’re always trying to predict or outthink your opponent.”
Mycah’s journey began when her father, Michael Slade, saw an ad for foil fencing lessons in the Grosse Pointe News. Thinking ahead, Slade believed fencing would make Mycah stand out when it came time to submit college applications.
“My parents are very supportive,” Mycah says. “They have sacrificed a lot and have invested lots of time and money into traveling, tournaments, equipment, lessons and practice in order for me to be successful and still enjoy the sport.”
Like most children and extracurricular activities, Slade initially hated it. She especially hated fencing when she lost in her first tournament.
“I didn’t like getting poked repeatedly and it was very uncomfortable,” she says. “My father and I had a conversation about protecting myself from getting touched on the ride home from practice. The next time I went to practice I tried his advice and it worked.”
There are three styles of fencing: foil, saber and epee. As a foilist, Slade wins bouts by accumulating five touches to the torso in a three-minute time frame. The winner of the bout is the player who first accumulates five touches.
Slade spends at least five hours Monday through Friday at the Renaissance Fencing Club perfecting her stance and strategy. Here, she predicts a potential opponent’s moves to prepare for bouts, as well as practices meditation, mindfulness, attack and defense methods – plus cardio and weight training.
“Fencing helps me develop good habits, a healthy lifestyle and discipline,” Slade says. “It’s given me tools I need to become aware of my body and mind. I have tremendous discipline in so many areas of my life. I meditate, do yoga, eat healthy, juggle my schedule, manage my time effectively, prioritize responsibilities and commit to practices.”
But while mastering the practice, it can be just as taxing on the wallet as it is the body. The Slades say they’ve spent about $15,000 on everything from equipment to lessons during the year. That fee doesn’t include costs to enter into the Olympics and international tournaments, which can cost up to $30,000.
The costs of fencing are largely why it’s not common in urban school districts like Detroit’s. Mycah says she feels children are being robbed when schools don’t offer fencing as an extracurricular activity.
“Fencing helps us to see our potential,” Slade says. “Young people can see that they’re capable of great things. And even if those dreams don’t ever come true, there is tremendous value in them.”
After graduating from Cass this spring, Mycah hopes to compete in fencing at the collegiate level and try out for the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team. While at school, she also hopes to study civil engineering and bring that knowledge and expertise back to Detroit.
“In the next four years, I believe there will be lots of jobs available in the engineering field,” she says. “Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to come back to Detroit and be a part of the new city we are building.”
Interested in helping Mycah take her fencing ambitions to the next level? Contact Malesa Owens McGhee at [email protected].