Dragon slayer

Margaret Brunelle

Photo by Mason Masis

Margaret Brunelle has taught fencing locally for 11 years. The self-described “crazy lady with the sword” runs My Fencing Center (2290 Ivy St., Ste. 180), which operates under the motto “Dare mighty things.” Fencing had been a lifelong dream for Brunelle, one that went unrealized until she moved to Chico in 2001 after accepting a job at Blue Shield of California. Office work was less physical than her former profession as a horse trainer, she said, and was not very healthy. She watched herself and her officemates put on extra pounds every year—two of her co-workers had heart attacks, Brunelle said—and not wanting to suffer a similar fate, she finally tried fencing and discovered she had a knack for it. In tournaments, she’s since placed in all three weapon categories—foil, saber and épée. And it was her competition success that made Brunelle decide to teach, with hopes of piercing the glass ceiling and getting young women involved in the sport. She started teaching with the Chico Area Recreation and Park District and eventually settled into her permanent location two years ago. Visit www.myfencingcenter.org to learn more.

Which fencing win are you most proud of?

My best result was at the senior games down in San Francisco. [My opponent] had just medaled in Europe, and I hadn’t fenced in six months.

How fit does one have to be to fence?

There isn’t anybody, depending on age, physical ability, whatever, that cannot learn the sport and have a measure of success. And I think that’s what’s different [between] this sport and a lot of sports out there. I’m not saying you don’t have to have a level of physical-ness to play this sport, but it’s as much a mental game as a physical game. So the older you get, you learn to use your mental game.

How is fencing a mental game?

Basically, you’re laying a trap for your opponent. You set up something that looks like this is what you’re going to do and they bite on it, then you really follow through with your action. When you get on a higher level it becomes a dance in a lot of ways … and it can go to third- and fourth-level intentions, which are absolutely a joy to watch.

You also raise horses. Have you thought of combining the two businesses?

No. The kids have wanted me to bring them so we can joust. The insurance will not cover jousting in the building. So no, we do not do that.

The Paralympics have fencing, too. How does My Fencing Center provide for people with disabilities?

One of my projects right now has been working with autistic children, because it works. I’ve had them come in here with ADD, ADHD, Asperger and on the spectrum, and they can do it. And I’ve had the feedback … that they have seen a marked improvement from fencing. To me, that means more than the tournaments.