EN GARDE, DOCTOR

University of Rochester    Alumni Gazette    Winter-Spring 2001

Ann Marsh '00M (MD) may have set aside her competitive foil to focus on her profession with a scalpel, but she lunges at the chance to point out the overlap between two focal points of her life.

Marsh, the first U.S. woman ever ranked among the top 10 foil fencers in the world, received her M.D. from the School of Medicine and Dentistry last May, just four months before her third Olympic games.

"I really believe there are a lot of similarities between [medicine and fencing]," Marsh told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on the eve of her first bout in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

"There are times when the emergency room is as hectic as a fencing strip. Each place requires you to think quickly on your feet. Each forces you to diagnose situations, prioritize, and be a problem solver. Of course what you do in an emergency room is a lot more important. It's perfect for me and for my personality. I love the fast-paced intensity."

Marsh, who from 1993 to 1997 was the top-ranked foil fencer in the United States, began a three-year residency in emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences after graduating from Rochester. She took an unpaid leave from her first full-time doctoring job to compete last September in Australia.

She finished 16th in the individual women's foil competition, advancing to the third round by upsetting a 1992 Olympic gold medalist.

In the women's team foil, Marsh and Rochester Fencing Centre teammates-former Rochester student Felicia Zimmerman and her sister, Iris-just missed a bronze medal, losing by three points to Germany.

Marsh rallied the team from a 40-36 deficit in the final round, slicing the Germans' lead to 43-42. But a controversial blocking call against Marsh during a one-point touch by her opponent sealed the Germans' win.

While disappointing, the nip-and-tuck finish is the closest American women have come to winning a medal in the women's team competition.

The finish also marks a continued counterattack by Americans to show that they are no longer to be taken lightly in a sport traditionally dominated by Europeans.

Perhaps still underappreciated by most Americans, fencing in the United States has been quietly building a base of support. Calling on the skills and stamina of a martial art, modern Olympic fencing requires competitors, as one major fencing Web site puts it, to "train for years, honing agility, quickness, and subtlety of movement. The sport has been described as 'chess with muscles,' suggesting that complicated strategy lies behind the thrusts and parries that punctuate a duel."

The object of each fencing duel is to score 15 points by touching the tip of the blade to the opponents' target area (the target varies slightly for the three events of foil, epée, and sabre). Touches are scored electronically and are registered by wires embedded in the torso-covering jacket called a lamé.

Known for her attacking style, Marsh is one reason that Europeans and other competitors no longer look past Americans in international tournaments.

A specialist in the foil-the modern version of the dueling rapier; the flexible, rectangular blade is 35 inches long and weighs less than a pound-the Royal Oak, Michigan, native began "fencing" as a child when her father crafted dueling blades out of Styrofoam.

Marsh enrolled at Columbia University, in part, to continue her dedication to the sport, becoming a member of Columbia's 1992 NCAA championship team.

That same year she was a member of the Barcelona Olympic team that finished ninth. And at the Atlanta games in 1996, Marsh, then a first year medical student, placed seventh in the individual competition, the best showing by a U.S. woman since 1956, when Janice Lee Romary finished fourth.

Marsh was a powerhouse-and an autograph target in fencing circles abroad-when she took a hiatus from the sport to concentrate on her medical studies at the University.

Rochester was not without other attractions: The city is home to the Rochester Fencing Centre, the sport's national training facility.

Marsh returned to fencing in December 1998 and, without much time for training, she placed third at the 1999 nationals. At that year's World Championships, she helped the American team finish seventh, earning the United States a spot in the 2000 Olympics.

Acknowledging that Sydney was probably her last Olympics, Marsh is looking forward to wearing surgical masks as much as the mesh head gear required of her sport

"I love the fact that I am a doctor," she says, "and I can't wait to devote my life to it."