International sport takes hold in city

ENCINITAS — Although Encinitas is better known for its world-renowned surf spots and skateboard icons, an internationally respected sport is gaining a foothold locally. From a few students and a temporary location at the city’s recreation center, the sport of fencing has soared in popularity. In fact, the Encinitas Fencing Academy recently opened a dedicated location to accommodate the swelling student enrollment.
Jens Stephan, president of the school, is a German-born-and-educated former software engineer. He is internationally recognized as an accomplished fencer and coach. In fact, he served as the UCSD assistant varsity coach for the men’s and women’s epee varsity squads, assisting with the men’s and women’s foil varsity squads. He also coached at the 2008 NCAA finals.
The growing local popularity of the sport can be attributed to Stephan’s life and coaching philosophy. An avid competitor, he believes that achieving personal goals is paramount regardless of the measure. “Success is not solely defined by the numbers on the scoreboard,” he said.
Local resident Bill Ostrie said his family became involved in the sport after his daughter expressed interest. Jacaranda (Jac) Ostrie, 11, took up fencing at a summer camp at the YMCA two years ago. “The idea of fighting with swords just captured her imagination,” Ostrie said. Since then she has continued to pursue the sport training under Stephan.
Ostrie started his fencing training last spring. It’s an activity that he enjoys participating in with his daughter. “I enjoy participating in the sport with Jac,” he said. The two have been known to suit up at home and practice. But the new training facility is state-of-the-art and Ostrie said the ease of having everything in place at the new location makes it easier to practice more frequently. “We’re lucky in that the center is so close,” he said.
Aleta Barthell, Jacaranda’s mother, said the sport has had a positive impact on her daughter and has become a family affair. “It gives her a sport she really, really loves and keeps her active,” Barthell said. “It keeps her mentally stimulated as well. When she comes back from practice her brain is on fire.”
The social element of a growing fencing community is also readily apparent. “There is a great group of kids there,” Barthell said. “The opportunity to train with a nationally ranked fencer like Jens is incredible.”
While the danger threshold seems high in a sport where swords are in play, Stephan said the sport is appropriate for children as young as 7. “Today, fencing is one of the safest sports, as the risk of serious injury is very low compared to most other sports,” Stephan said.
According to Stephan, fencing is considered a lifetime sport. Unlike other sports where injuries plague the athletes, Stephan said he sees fencers upwards of 60 years old. “It really is a sport for everyone,” he said.
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