Just like her silver screen hero, Grace Christie is making her mark with a sword, writes Aaron Goile.
It would be unwise to mess with Grace Christie, a teenager with a stash of swords and proficient at using them.
The 18-year-old is New Zealand's top-ranked junior (under-20) female epee fencer and is ranked the third best woman in the country for the epee, coming off an impressive showing at last month's national championships in Christchurch.
Christie, who is year 13 and is home-schooled through the Correspondence School, has been fencing for four years, inspired by the swashbuckling movie character Zorro.
"It's really embarrassing, because our family really likes action movies, and we've watched Zorro so many times, it was like ‘Oh I want to do that'," Christie said of her desire to take up the sport.
It all started four years ago. One of the parents involved with her brother's hockey team was a fencerand he took her to the Waikato Swords Club - the region's only fencing club.
"It was quite different, but I beat this older guy, so I was like ‘Yep, this is my thing'," Christie said.
And there was no mucking around - within a fortnight shecompeting at the nationals. However, that turned to custard when she pulled a hamstring because she failed to warm up properly.
She has made swift progress since then, gaining silver in the epee at the national secondary school championships the past two years, as well as two bronzes with the foil.
With the lighter foil sword Christie also attained bronze at this year's nationals.
"I was the only young person that got in the top eight so I was really happy about that," she said.
"I train more in foil because epee I do for fun. I like epee more because there's no pressure or anything.
"Epee's more of a fun one. You can hit anywhere, both people can get the point at the same time and there's not many rules."
At the nationals Christie also competed with the sabre for the first time, finishing third, and winning the Lady in Arms Cup for the best-performing female across all three weapons.
At competitions the preliminary bouts are three minutes or the first to five points - whichever comes first; in the finals it is three lots of three minutes or to 15 points.
Christie competes at regional events in Auckland and Wellington during the year and trains twice a week with her coach, Karl Snell, who was formerly ranked New Zealand No 3.
She also does her own point control and footwork training most days around the house and watches clips on YouTube of top-level fencers.
Fencing, with all its equipment, is an expensive sportand Christie is fortunate to have been awarded a $5000 scholarship from AdviceFirst earlier this month.
At Christie's club there are about 25 members, plenty of them school kids.
She said people who take up fencing soon discover it's starkly different from what they had imagined.
"They expect all this sword-fighting and slashing and hacking and stuff. But it's quite technical, lots of rules and stuff. If you try it out and you just stick at it for a couple of months it actually becomes really fun because you start to get the hang of it."
Christie said she had suffered several injuries in competition, due more to poor technique than being dealt to by an opponent.
Her long-term goal is to make the Olympics, and she is also eyeing the 2014 Commonwealth championships.
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