Volume 96, Issue 65
Friday, January 24, 2003

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Simms has a PhD in kicking ass

By Ryan Hickman
Gazette Staff

Beth Kerim/Gazette
THIS MAN KNOWS HOW TO HANDLE HIS SWORD. Western fencing phenom Paul Simms (right) has been decimating the competition since his early years.

If you want to evoke hot white fear in fencers throughout Ontario, just whisper "Paul Simms" in their ears.

Simms, a PhD student in engineering at Western, has a reputation that echoes around Ontario University Athletics as the premier swashbuckler in the province.

Simms has been flipping a pire (technical term for a weapon) since he was in Grade 3 in Halifax, and has swashbuckled his way to a 17th national ranking in the foil event.

Fencing is also a multidimensional undertaking, with the use of three different weapons. An individual usually specializes in one of these weapons, but not Simms.

"He has won medals in all three weapons and that's virtually unheard of," said Western men's fencing coach Brad Winder.

"There are just certain people who are really good at the sport they choose," Winder continued. "Paul just has the physical makeup, the mental makeup and the ability to do really well in fencing and has had a phenomenal career."

Sometimes referred to as the European martial arts, fencing is the fusion of mind and body, where the pace of points and bouts last mere seconds. Simms, as a master fencer, plays his opponents like a chess game, setting them up and lunging in for the kill.

"It's like he knows what's going to happen before it happens. He sets it up four moves ahead," said Western sabre captain Derek Rhodenizer about competing against Simms, something he does frequently in practice.

The intense mind games that occur in fencing is one of the reasons Simms continued seriously with the sport.

"I initially did it because everyone else was doing it and then I just stuck with it for a combination of a lot of things," Simms remarked. "Strategy and tactics are very important. Psychology is very important and there are different types of physical stress as well."

Tennis and sailing are Simms' other personal interests and he has even assisted in choreographing fight scenes for local plays using his fencing expertise.

The Mustangs fencing team, which has a 60-year history, struggles for support, practice space and other necessities that would be assumed for most varsity sports, but do exceptionally well considering the circumstances.

"The women's foil team is brand new. The men's epee team is brand new, and the strength of the team is men's sabre and women's epee," Winder explained.

Most of the team had never partaken in the tactical duelling of fencing before coming to Western. This past weekend, McMaster University was the site of the OUA Sectionals for qualifying, where the Mustangs duellers excelled to a fifth place finish on the strength of rookie sabreist Adrian de Valois-Franklin and an undefeated sweep by Rhodenizer in the same event.

Mike Bertrand fenced his way to a fifth place in men's foil and Nathan Laval showed his swordmanship with a fourth place in the men's epee. On the women's side, epeeists Kara Kieley, Laura McGrath and Pamela Lepine locked up the fifth to seventh positions.

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2002 THE GAZETTE