2018 #ThisGirlFences - Lara and Fleur

#THISGIRLCAN Lara and Fleur's story

‘I’m a Woman’.. ‘Phenomenally.’. ‘Phenomenal woman’.. ‘That’s me’.

These lines, taken from the late Maya Angelou’s* poem Phenomenal Woman and, narrated by her, play over a video for the #thisgirlcan campaign (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZoXyIxqFRc) which is encouraging girls and women to play sport, using “real” women role models.

The video, aims to encourage women of all ages, colour, shapes ability, and sizes to take up a sport and its message is that you don’t have to be a world beater or No 1 in your club. You can do some form of exercise because it makes you feel good, or because you want to do that belt up, become fitter, raise money for charity.

Being ‘a bit rubbish at sport’ is ok. What is important is overcoming beliefs like, ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘I’ll make a fool of myself’ or ‘No way I’ll wear Lycra.’

Scottish Fencing support this campaign wholeheartedly and are highlighting women in fencing. As a male fencer at Elgin Duellist Fencing club, up in Moray, I’m well qualified to write on this issue! However, I also edit our club’s Newsletter, The Duellist and in our current issue we featured two of our female fencers, Fleur Hamelin-Stewart, 35 and Lara Summerscales, 12. And a quarter of our members are ‘girls’ and these ‘girls’ can and do fence and derive great enjoyment from holding a weapon in their hands. Their stories then, relate to the #thisgirlcan campaign.


 Gentle, 12 year old Lara wrote:


“I have been fencing for a few weeks now, and I have really come to enjoy it. I like going to Elgin Duellist Fencing Club because, not only is everybody really friendly and encouraging, but the amount of things you can learn in a few weeks is amazing!


I now know lots of different parries for lots of different attacks. I’m still working on my riposte though. My favourite thing is fencing with the electric box. Every time you hit your opponent, the box beeps, and it tells you if you were off target or not. It’s a really clever piece of equipment and you have to wear special jackets for it. Even though I really love fencing, I still have a long way to go before I become an expert!”

I love the innocence in her words as she describes the electric box, a functional item for most of us, but for her it contains an almost magical quality. Lovely.

By contrast, French born, 35 year old local teacher, Fleur Hamelin-Stewart arrives every week, surrounded by her brood, toddler at her feet, young son marching ahead. She won the admiration of everyone by entering last year’s Highland Open after only a month or so of coaching. Writing in The Duellist she said:


“October 1st 2017. It’s my 35th birthday and day two of the Highland Open Fencing Tournament. With only a few sessions of fencing behind me and a vague recollection of the lessons I had when I was ten years old. . . I am p e t r I f I e d. The other, much more experienced fencers, will destroy me. Why did I agree to this?

The real question is why would I not?


I started Fencing at the club because of my 9 year old son Reuben. He took part in a plastic fencing taster session at primary school and really enjoyed it. When he asked me if he could join the club I instantly agreed, as I suddenly recalled how much I liked fencing when I was young. As I took him to his fencing lesson I realised I could join too. Next lesson, there I was, standing proudly by Reuben’s side (re)learning the en garde position as well as lunging. 


Fencing with Reuben is also a great way to spend some good quality time together. It is also very precious to have something special to both of us that we can really get excited about. At the end of the day though, I suspect the only reason Reuben loves us fencing together is to wield a weapon at me. 


I am proud to be part of this club and I am glad I can share this passion with my son. Each bruise is a trophy, each session is an opportunity to grow, not just our skills but also our bond. So what is there not to like? Come and play “walk the plank”*or “musketeers” with us. If anything, fencing is fun!”


Now in our eleventh year, our wee club has always reached out to all in our community and is very affordable. Courtesy of grants and fraternal support, we are able to offer all equipment and weapons. Head coach and founder, Robin Paterson, has created a club that is ultra-inclusive and is about each fencer doing what they can on the piste.

Another of our Phenomenal women, Lindsay Cant, 22, has been with the club since it started. Then 14, she has never wanted to fence for Scotland, but she has turned up most weeks and is now our plastic fencing coach, going into all local primary schools, delivering plastic fencing sessions.

The message from Fleur, Lara and Lindsay is on point: ‘If anybody tells you you can’t, you absolutely can: we can and do.” Fleur goes to the heart of the matter saying, “We women often feel ashamed of our bodies, I did after childbirth and, we worry we will be judged by men and especially by other women.” This campaign helps cut through the shame and judgment issues.”

I hope the #thisgirlcan campaign continues to be successful, and we see more phenomenal women on pistes throughout the UK. Before ending with some more Phenomenal Women verses we extend an invitation to you all, male or female, to visit us should you be in Scotland.


It’s in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

The palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

*Maya Angelou was one of the most world’s most important writers and activists.

*A Club Training Game


Michael Hawkins Elgin Duellist Fencing club, Moray, Scotland.