February 25, 2004

Walk-On Epee Captain

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Senior Erica Wilhelm attributes luck with her journey from an inexperienced walk-on to a captain on the Cornell fencing team.

The Binghamton, N.Y., native chose Cornell because it seemed like her best option for studying plant science. In her freshman year, Wilhelm took a fencing class for her physical education requirement.

Four years later she is the leader of the epee squad.

Wilhelm remembers looking at the posters for men’s club fencing one day when head coach Al Peters came up behind her and suggested that she join the team.

“I was curious about fencing,” Wilhelm said. “I’m pretty lucky to have walked on.”

Wilhelm believes that luck has a lot to do with where she is now in her fencing career. She cracked into the starting line-up at the end of her junior year when the epee squad was plagued by injuries. The reason she is captain this year is because she is the only returning senior in the epee category for the Red.

“I certainly only began starting by default,” she said. “I am captain by default.”

Her coach has a different perspective, however.

“It’s a natural evolution of the work she’s done three years previously,” said Peters. “She fought hard, trained, thought about it a lot. She came back very focused in September.”

“Fencing allows you to learn about yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally especially,” said Wilhelm. “Once you start it you’ll never go back to normal life. It’s strengthened my views about myself.”

The three years of hard work, dedication, and learning have certainly paid off for Wilhelm in her senior campaign.

“She is a good inspiration,” Peters said. “She never gives up personally, never lets others give up.”

Wilhelm has led by example and through her actions this year. Peters noted that she sets an example by training so hard. She has also led the epee squad in victories at some tough competitions, most recently with her 4-1 record against James Madison and Princeton.

“Because I never fenced before Cornell, I never felt any pressure to perform,” Wilhelm said. “That frees me up to think about how others feel. Feeling stronger about myself from fencing made me a better captain.”

Wilhelm believes that Cornell fencing has grown into a much more competitive program since she took up the sport in her freshman year. More experienced newcomers have added strength and talent to the Red.

Wilhelm has shown her teammates that hard work can make even the most inexperienced walk-on a successful competitor.

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer