Niagara Notables

Stephanie Cole

On most days, you can find Stephanie Cole practicing fancy footwork in the Kiernan Center. Niagara University's general counsel since 2006, Cole is an accomplished fencer who placed second in Women's Foil at the London Heroes Tournament in Ontario, Canada, this past January.

"The basic of fencing is the footwork," she notes. "It's almost like dancing."
Cole's introduction to the sport came during her undergraduate years at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. She was attracted to fencing because "it seemed like an exciting sport," and selected the épée as her weapon of choice because "it was about fun and flamboyance," she says. After a year and a half, during which she medaled at an international tournament held at the University of Massachusetts, she was sidelined due to a knee injury.

Cole returned to the sport about two years ago when a colleague invited her to go with him to his fencing club. "The minute I got back into it I couldn't stop going," she says.

Now, she's vice president of the club and a passionate advocate of the sport, which she says can be enjoyed by people of all ages. She organizes tournaments, coordinates competition classes, and is in charge of demonstrations, which are sometimes done as fundraisers for local organizations, such as the Food Bank of Western New York. She also plans to start programs for both seniors and children.

"Many top Olympians credit community programs with getting them into fencing and changing their lives," she says. "We hope to fulfill this role in Buffalo."

Cole spends several hours a night three to four times a week at the club, which she says is as much social as it is recreational. Mindful of her past injury, she is learning as much about fencing as possible and works with an experienced coach, one of the certified instructors who volunteer for the club. "We pay a lot of attention to stretching, strengthening and conditioning so the body is ready for the demands of the sport," she says.

Fencing is as much mental as it is physical, Cole notes, and that is the most challenging aspect of the sport for her. "Fencing requires patience," she says. "If you're up against an opponent you have to outthink, you can't rush. You have to wait it out. And you can't lie to yourself on the fencing strip - it really puts the focus, in a way you can't avoid, on the things you have to work on."

While Cole regularly competes in foil, she recently became interested in learning the third weapon used by fencers, the sabre. "I picked up the sabre for the first time and 18 hours later I was in a competition," she says. "I got beaten to the ground, which I don't usually enjoy, but I had a great time!" Ultimately, Cole would like to become a United States Fencing Coaches Association-certified instructor in the sabre, and has already been certified as a referee, the first step toward that goal. She notes that becoming a coach can take a decade or longer, but she doesn't plan to quit fencing anytime soon.

"Once you get started, it's hard to stop," she says. "Fencing has an adrenaline rush to it that's very addictive. And it's a lot of fun!"