“You went along with all the other guys and girls taking part, and it was just so much fun, there was always an element of seriousness but the atmosphere was the biggest thing for me.”

At 27, Gail Leslie, plans to get back into fencing that she loves so much, after adult life took her away from the sport, at age 19. Having participated at her local club in Falkirk, Gail shared how she plans to get back to it.

A male dominated sport, Gail was surprised to find that she got on so well with the boys at the club and excelled at using the Sabre discipline, something not many people specialise in. She said: “As a women competing in the sport, I felt safe, there was always people there to give you feedback and support you, it was a safe place for me,

“I dealt with really bad anxiety when I was younger so it got to a point when I would only leave the house for school or to go fencing. It was getting me out the house and being around people. It wasn’t just leaving the house and seeing people at the club, it was going to competitions around the country and meeting other people who were interested in the sport as well.”

Dealing with mental health in your teenage years can be hard. Gail explained that the people she met through her fencing club had similar interests and were a bit ‘nerdy’ which helped her to come out of her shell as an adolescent. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, a study by Bupa, showed that 4/5 of teenagers reported symptoms of poor mental health.

Libby Sullivan had just turned 16 when the pandemic first began. Having to juggle exams, friendships, new jobs, and university applications as well as a global pandemic has been tricky. Now 18, she and some of her friends started going to dance classes to get out and enjoy themselves as well as getting some exercise: “I like dancing because I feel like I can fully immerse myself into the way I feel with the music and to truly be myself,

“my mental health has gotten so much better now that I dance as it allows me to focus on something and work towards a specific goal. I often think of my grandad when I dance as I know he would be so proud of me that I am finally happy within myself.” 

When I asked Gail what the benefits of participating when she was younger she told me, it wasn’t even that she was very good at fencing but the people she met: “That was the best part and made me feel safe, I felt like I could be myself, with no judgement. I got that serotonin boost that everyone looks for when they do sport.” That’s the special thing about sports groups for young people, to give them somewhere they can excel mentally and psychically, in a secure  environment. In a time such as this, during a pandemic, the choice was taken away from so many young people and that has had a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing. In Bupa’s study they found that 52 per cent of teenagers had turned to harmful coping mechanisms since the beginning of the pandemic.

At 27, Leslie is keen to get back into fencing, but travel and costs are so far proving a bit of an issue. She is ardent to return to her old club in Linlithgow, but based on the other side of Glasgow and having been working in retail up until last year, it was virtually impossible: “I’ve had the same kit since I was 15 and I’m going to be 28 on my birthday, so you can imagine, I’ve grown a bit. It’s unfortunate that I’m almost ready to get back into it and I’m looking for a club closer by, but like I say I know I would be comfortable with my old club, so I’m just trying to find the right time.”

In the meantime, Gail has picked up some new sporting activities, that aren’t on the other side of the country. Using her footwork skills she picked up in fencing, Gail can use the experience to learn ballet. Getting back into a routine was really important for her, something else that can help with getting people back on track after experiencing poor mental health. Gail also explained that she’s started going to the gym with friends, which helps with socialising. She has started to see the same benefits from when she first started fencing to now: “I go to the gym with my friends and we go to classes, but with the ballet I’m learning to come out of my shell and learn a new skill, I’m confident I’ll get there. Having been stuck in the house all the time as well, it’s helping with that, and I even went to the gym by myself which I never thought I could do, but now I’ve done it, I’m not scared to do it now.”

Getting back into sports or starting a sport in adulthood can be daunting at the best of times (never mind the worst), so it’s always really helpful to hear about other people who have already done just that, and we hope here at SW/S, we can encourage people from all sorts of backgrounds, ages, and capabilities to get involved in sports, I asked Gail what she would say to someone thinking about picking up sports as a hobby: “Even though a lot of sport is male dominated, it isn’t about the competition element, its the social side, and improving your skills, and getting all the benefits that come from doing sport, so I’d tell people to just get out there and enjoy yourself”.

If you have struggled with any of the topics discussed in this article help is available here.

More information about fencing can be found on the Scottish Fencing site about where you can find your nearest club and more about the sport. 

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