We’ve watched Caitlin grow from a shy retiring girl into a positive physical person following her introduction to fencing. Here is her story.
I was born with a heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot - I was a blue baby (literally as my body didn’t have enough oxygen). I had my first operation at 4 and a half months old. I had 8 operations in total including open heart surgery when I was 2 and when I was 8. Doctors reckoned that, without surgery, I wouldn’t live past 10 years old.
There were a lot of scary moments for my parents like when I pulled out my chest drains (which were stitched in) when I was 2 and another when I was 8 recovering from open heart surgery and was well enough to play in the play room when suddenly I started leaking blood everywhere and I had to get taken back into bed. I do actually have some good memories from being friends with other sick kids.
My cardiologist recommend I keep fit and exercise regularly so my parents encouraged me to try a few different sports: Irish dancing, tae kwon Do, swimming, football and cricket. I stopped tae kwon Don when we moved house and never picked it up again. I stopped swimming lessons because I stopped enjoying it. When I got too old for the primary school cricket and football, I decided not to join the older age group as I was being made fun of by some of the other kids because I wasn’t as good as them.
Then I joined SJ and Lucy's afterschool taster fencing class. I really enjoyed myself and after a while I was invited to train at the Salle. I was encouraged by Phil to do some local competitions so I stared doing YDS competitions and did pretty well in them.
I actually managed to do well enough in them to get a place on the Scottish youth team to compete at Challenge Wratislavia, which was scary and overwhelming but I really enjoyed it.
I’m now competing on the British cadet circuit and improving constantly although it’s hard to get time to fit everything in with school, fencing, violin lessons and DofE but my parents are very supportive and help me make sure that I get everything done.
For me, fencing has been a life changer. Currently, the only other sport I do is going to the gym, which I started through a sports development program for fencing. Those two sports are the only thing keeping me fit. It is the only sport where people who are much better than me lift me up and help me get better rather than shove me down and make me feel bad about myself. To some people being put down makes them more determined to become better, but when I’m put down it makes me want to quit. When I started training at the Salle, I was terrified to fence anyone or even talk to anyone (with the exception of the juniors as I had learned from previous experiences that younger kids are generally nicer to me). What happened genuinely surprised me. No one was mean to me, and no one put me down for not being as good as them. I finally found somewhere that I could have fun and improve myself without having to worry about people being horrible. Training at the Salle has helped me, both physically and mentally. I’m still quiet and shy, but I’m no longer nearly as bad as I used to be. At some point I will need surgery again but I will try not to let it slow me down too much.