For Cam Mackay, the sword has been mightier than the serve.
After years of playing club volleyball, the Grade 11 student from River East Collegiate decided last summer to devote his entire sporting focus to fencing. Based on early results, it was a wise decision.
Mackay won the under-17 age group at two separate Canada Cup events, and finished third both times in the under-20 category. He added an eighth-place showing at a North American Cup, and recently travelled to Croatia as part of Team Canada to compete in the Cadet and Junior World Championships.
"I didn’t see this improvement coming this fast," said the North Kildonan resident. "To focus on fencing has been really nice. I love volleyball, so I wasn’t sure about the decision, but I didn’t want to live not knowing how good of a fencer I could be."
The member of the St. Boniface-based Rapier Fencing Club first took up the sport when he was in Grade 4, but didn’t get serious until about three years ago, when he started competing in national events.
Now he’s training six times a week under the tutelage of provincial coach Ayach Bounachada and wondering just how far the sport can take him.
Mackay wasn’t at all discouraged by his 61st-place finish in Croatia in the sabre competition. He called the whole thing a "great learning experience," and said, if anything, the event proved to himself that he could compete on the world stage.
"My fencing career is just starting," he said. "At that level, every fencer is just as good as you are or better. There are no easy points. You’re fighting for every single point. I know I have to train as hard as I can all the time now."
While pure athleticism might be enough to dominate at the provincial level, or in younger age groups, technical skill and mental dexterity become key factors at the higher levels of the sport, Mackay said.
In the near term, Mackay is hoping to win the under-17 competition at the upcoming Western Canadian Championships in Edmonton and Canadian Championships in Gatineau, Que.
He also wants another under-20 medal, as he’ll be competing at that level exclusively next season.
Longer term, Mackay is thinking about where the sport can take him. A scholarship to an NCAA school is certainly a possibility, and his under-20 results have proven that he has a chance to represent Canada at that level.
While club volleyball is a thing of the past, Mackay still found time to play for the varsity boys’ team at River East in the fall. He’s also a member of the school’s band, on the student council and part of the Students Without Borders program.