Airman qualifies for national fencing tournament

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
The fencer prepares for a match by studying his opponent closely. With an eagle eye, he breaks down his opponent's strengths and weaknesses and starts to formulate a game plan.

Airman 1st Class Devin Zayas, a 673rd Communications Squadron network integration technician, has been fencing for more than five years, and he admits to having a slight case of jitters before he competes.

"I'm always nervous before a match," he said. "But when it is time to start, I become cool and collected."

Once the match starts, Zayas and his opponent take turns attacking and defending. Their feet audibly pound on the floor as they lunge at each other hoping to strike the blade on their opponent's body. One stumble or moment of hesitation can spell certain defeat for either dueler.

Zayas said there is no feeling that matches blocking his opponent's strike and scoring a hit himself.

"It really is quite a rush," he said. "You just prevented him from scoring and just turned the tables by scoring one yourself."

There are three types of fencing matches: foil, sabre and epee. The three different principle types sport different rules and bladed weapons. Zayas participates in sabre.

Zayas said he is only able to practice a few times a week and he wishes he could get in more practice time.

He said fencing is an incredible workout which uses a variety of different muscles in his body.

The Airman's journey to the sport of fencing started in a movie theater.

Zayas said when he was 14, he saw a movie with a fencing scene in it and he was instantly intrigued by the sport. Fortunately, his high school in Chicago offered the sport.

He said he quickly picked up the footwork aspect of the sport because of some karate classes he took when he was younger. The blade work, on the other hand, was more of a challenge.

Wayne Johnson, the head coach at the Fencing Center of Alaska, has seen a lot of fencers in his more than 40 years in the sport. Johnson is a highly qualified fencer. He was selected for the 1976 and 1980 U.S. Olympic team as an epee fencer.

Johnson said Zayas possesses a lot of talent.

"Devin is a classic, top-notch sabre fencer," Johnson said. "He covers distance very well and he is very explosive. He is very balanced and quick. His hand is very calm and he makes nicely directed strikes."

Johnson said he feels like he could keep up with most of his students, but he wouldn't stand a chance in a sabre match with Zayas.

"He is three times better with the sabre than I ever was," Johnson said.

Johnson said Zayas is a great benefit as an instructor at the fencing center as well.

"He is great with the kids," he said. "He is very modest and understated. In fencing, it is pretty obvious when someone has talent. He doesn't lord his ability over the kids. He is very patient and the students all benefit from his help."

Zayas said he enjoys instructing.

"I love teaching even though the kids can be a handful at times," he said. "It makes me feel good to know that I'm developing my sport by instructing the next generation of fencers."

Zayas recently competed in a tournament in Seattle, and placed third overall in his age division. His performance qualified him for three events at the Junior Olympic Fencing Championship in Dallas, Feb. 18.

At 19 years old, this will be the last year he will be able to compete in the events. He is hoping to find a sponsor to help finance the trip since some unexpected car repairs drained his travel budget.

"I really enjoy competing," he said. "I have learned a lot about myself in competitions and it has really helped me grow as a person."