SOMERS, N.Y. – Somers High School senior Greta Candreva will head to Harvard University this fall to join the university’s elite Division 1 fencing team.
At Cambridge, Mass., the decorated amateur fencer looks forward to advancing her career, which has already led her around the country and the world to countries like Slovakia, Finland, Italy, Austria, and France. Among her many achievements, Candreva has won 33 gold medals, 15 silver medals and 14 bronze medals between the national and international stage. This year, her name appeared on a list of 2020 Olympic contenders.
Tell us about how you became interested in fencing.
One summer, my mom was investigating camps available through school and there was an advertisement for a beginner’s fencing camp. My brother was really young at the time and he was really into lightsabers and Star Wars. He started fencing first. My dance classes and his fencing classes were just too far away for our parents to get us both places on time, so after watching him I decided to try fencing as well. I fell in love and have been doing it ever since.
Could you take us through a day in the life of practice, and then a fencing competition?
I practice at the New York Athletic Club. Three days a week right after school I take an hour and 10-minute train ride to New York City. I get to practice around 4:30 p.m. and for the first 30 minutes, I have a solo lesson with my coach. This is when I practice specific techniques, agility, footwork, and learn new moves. Next, the facility operates as an open gym where all of the athletes fence each other. I get home around 9:30 p.m. and I try to get most of my homework done on the train.
When I travel for international tournaments, I usually leave either Wednesday or Thursday nights. When I get to the country, I eat and then sleep all day. After competitions—which are one or two-day events usually lasting 12 hours a day—we fly home on Sunday, and I return to school on Monday.
Can you speak to some of the sacrifices you’ve made to pursue your fencing passion? How has it affected your family, academic, and social life?
My family has been really positive and supportive. We spend a lot of time together traveling all over the country for tournaments.
From a young age, fencing really taught me about time management. I learned how to navigate practice and traveling while getting all of my work done. It’s definitely been very stressful academically.
Socially, it was really hard for me to choose fencing over birthday parties, dances, school events, or even just basic things like hanging out with friends on weekends. But as I got older, I realized that it was a necessary part of being a high-level athlete. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I did make those sacrifices because they ultimately helped me accomplish my goals.
Fencing seems like it could be mentally taxing sometimes. It’s one vs. one, and there’s no teammate to jump in and protect you from getting hit. Do you like it this way?
I really like that it’s a solo sport, partly because I’m pretty self-dependent. I know the harder I work, the more I’ll get out of it. I have participated in some team events; however, they are complicated and the format is totally different.
I think one of the really cool things about fencing is that it’s such a mental game. It’s often called physical chess because you always have to think one step ahead of your opponent and plan things out. Even if you’re fencing against someone who’s stronger than you or faster than you, you can still outsmart them.
For someone who has achieved so much success—not to mention at an international level—tell me, where do you think your fencing career will lead you?
From a young age, I always wanted to be an Olympian. That was always my dream. And an interim goal that I set for myself was to go to the world championships and win a medal. When I was in the eighth grade I competed in the 2016 World Championships in Bourges, France. It was my first world championship and I was one of the youngest—if not the youngest ever—female épée fencer to compete.
I didn’t get a medal that year, which, I hadn’t expected as I was really young. I kept training hard and I made the world championship team again for the next three years. Every time my result was not what I wanted it to be and I was always really disappointed—until last year. In 2019, I was very honored to win a bronze medal in the Under-20 World Championship event in Toruń, Poland. It wasn’t gold, but it was a medal, which they only give to the top four, so that was fantastic! That was my biggest goal accomplished.
I think that for right now, I really want to focus on just being a collegiate athlete and working toward going to the NCAA’s and hopefully become NCAA champion for Harvard. Because Harvard is an Ivy League school, they also compete in a competition called “All-Ivys,” and I’d really love to win an All-Ivy championship title with my team.
I’m also really excited to explore academic life. I’m looking forward to pursuing a concentration in government or history and possibly learning Russian or continuing my Italian studies. Depending on how my first three years go, I will reevaluate to see if I will take a year off to pursue the Olympics.
What is your favorite thing to eat before competitions?
The morning before every competition, I always eat two or three eggs with toast and orange juice. I eat throughout the entire competition to keep my energy up. For international competitions I like to bring my own granola bars and dried fruit rolls for quick sugars. I’d say it’s actually harder to maintain a good diet when in the U.S. because all convention center venues will have is really heavy, fried food. As an athlete, it’s not great to have fried food sitting in your stomach while you compete.
Do you ever feel “Greta the Fencer” overbears some other parts of you? Have you felt that some of your other skills get overlooked? What’s something most people probably wouldn’t know about you?
I think a lot of people, especially in school who don’t really know me very well will say things like: “Oh, yeah. Greta, the girl who fences” or “that tall fencer girl.” Even though it might be the first thing you see, I’m more than my height and I am more than the sport I play. It’s definitely bothered me, but I’ve learned to move on and deal with it.
Something that people don’t know about me is that I actually love the outdoors. I love to hike. I’ve been white-water rafting once, which was so much fun. I also really like to cook, and I love to laugh—if you get to know me, I think I’m a pretty funny person.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
I often use my free time to do something I enjoy and to unwind. My life is always so go, go, go. I love to spend time with my friends, read, watch TV, and workout.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a unique sport such as fencing?
I would say don’t be afraid to be a little bit different than everyone else because I think being different is a good thing. At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you’re doing something that you love and enjoy. I think one of the most important things I’d say to someone who wants to fence is that no matter how good you become, you can’t win all of the time. It’s really important to not let losses deter you because they happen to everyone.
Lauren Canavan is the creator and editor-in-chief of The Tusker Times, the online student news source for Somers High School. She is a varsity softball athlete, a musician in the symphonic band, and is an active member of multiple honor societies and clubs. In the fall, she will attend the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University. https://tuskertimes.wordpress.com/.