‘My Fencing World’ explores the world of UK fencing as told through the personal stories of people of all ages and abilities in our community. Here we meet Veteran foilist Mike McKay.
“I started fencing in 1981 after a ‘go on give it a go, what have you got to lose’ conversation with my English teacher who ran the school fencing club. This was one of the few comprehensive school clubs in Glasgow at the time but it would go on to produce several Scotland and GB Internationals across various age groups from the fencers of that era.
My weapon of choice has always been foil and my first competitive outing was a few months later which resulted in me qualifying for the National Age Group Championships. This was the first of the many road trips during the first phase of my fencing life as I travelled Scotland and the rest of Britain competing in whichever tournaments I could both afford and more importantly get to via public transport or a generous clubmate with a spare seat in their car.
Having moved ‘down south’ after University in 1989 I fenced for a number of years in Leicester at the YMCA club. I did reasonably well over those years but was never in the top echelon of the rankings. I’m most proud during this time of having represented Scotland in 5 Home Internationals, qualifying for and competing in the 1994 Commonwealth Championships in Whistler BC and being part of Senior Winton Cup winning teams from West of Scotland. I ‘retired’ from fencing in 1996 with demands of work and a young family taking precedence.
Apart from some sporadic club fencing between 2000-2003 I spent most of my athletic endeavour for the next 13 years playing 5-a-side or on the golf course trying to cope with the frustrations of that game. Then in 2009 one of my sons suddenly asked me to take him fencing having come across my kit in the loft. So began phase 2 of my fencing life!
The intention to stick to just club fencing once a week soon stretched to doing some Yorkshire events, then the Veterans Winton Cup and in 2014 the Veterans Commonwealth Championships in Largs. Before I knew it the competitive instinct kicked in and I was training twice a week again, mostly with younger, faster and stronger fencers and then it became not just Veterans events but also competing in some of the National circuit events again. The effort has paid off and since 2016 I have won medals each year from at least one of the dedicated UK Veteran events. 2018 stands out when I became Overall British Veteran Champion as well as Age Group Champion and then returned to the Commonwealth arena, bringing 2 Golds and a Silver back from the Veterans event in Canberra.
In 2015 the most incredible and unexpected part of my fencing life began with being selected for GB Veterans in a match against Germany – my international veteran fencing career! Since then I have qualified to represent GBR at the European Team Championship twice and the World Championships four times, although sadly this year’s event has been cancelled. I’ve also competed in two European Individual Championships and this season taken part in two of the new European Veteran competition circuit events in Munich and Lille as well as once again taking part in the GBR vs Germany match. This widening of horizons and opportunity for international competition for veterans has been amazing and will hopefully grow significantly over the coming years. I’ve made new fencing friends from all over the world and although the competition remains fierce, the camaraderie and enjoyment is enormous.
The pinnacle of this international fencing experience came in 2017 when I won the individual Bronze medal at the Veteran World Championships in Slovenia. The feeling on the podium was incredible having finished ahead of several ex-Olympic and ex-Senior World Championship competitors in a field of 64 from 27 countries. It was also extra special being able to share the moment with teammate Kola Abidogun who also won bronze – we couldn’t stop smiling. Then in 2018 we shared the podium again when we won gold as World Champions alongside our 60+ and 70+ compatriots in the team event in Livorno. A more collective experience this time that will also live long in the memory both for the fencing, the support we had during the competition and the celebrations as a team afterwards.
Having entered the sport 39 years ago on the back of a speculative conversation I cannot believe how much fencing has given me. Even the disappointments that every sport inevitably brings have been vastly outweighed by the joy of competing, the highs of winning, the opportunity to travel and, most importantly, the friendships made. The best bit is I have plenty of years left in me yet!”
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