Off Central: Arizonan to be first Latina fencer for US in Pan American Games

Jun 15, 2018, 5:00 AM | Updated: 10:33 am
(Facebook photo)...
(Facebook photo)
(Facebook photo)

PHOENIX — Team USA fencer. World Cup champion. The only Latina on Team USA. You can add any of those titles next to the name Natalie Vie.

Here’s the story of how she’ll soon be making history.

An Arizona girl

Vie grew up in Phoenix. The oldest of four kids in an Argentine household, she never thought fencing would become her way of life. That all changed when she turned 18 as a senior at Chaparral High School.

It was an assignment that got her started: The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J.D. Salinger, introduced her to the sport.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this sounds interesting: Fencing,'” Vie said in a recent interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM. “I’ve always known of fencing, and I saw it on ‘The Parent Trap,’ but I never saw it in person.”

The book sparked her interest, so she picked up the phone, called a local fencing club and showed up to see it live and in color for the first time.

Vie joined the Phoenix Falcon Fencing Club that summer and enrolled in the club’s camp. She was hooked.

“The very first time I fenced,” Vie remembered, “it clicked.”

Rolando “Rolly” Arroyo, her trainer during her early years at the club, felt she picked up the sport right away.

“Natalie just took it like fish take to water,” Arroyo recalled. “We couldn’t keep her out of the club,” he joked.

Despite her late start as a young adult, Arroyo, who has more than 50 years of experience, credited Vie’s success to true talent, pure joy of the sport and love of competition.

“Timing, distance, speed — she’s got it,” Arroyo said.

Even with her small frame and the age she began, she passionately showed true love for the sport.

“That’s what’s made her succeed,” Arroyo said.

Vie continued fencing as she headed to Arizona State University and majored in political science and sculpture.

It was the political climate in Arizona that led her in that route.

“I’m Latina and I’m from Arizona,” she said, “and at the time… was when all these laws were singling out the Hispanic community.”

Protests erupted around the state surrounding the controversial SB 1070 Arizona immigration law.

“I was really interested in finding out why this was happening,” she remembered.

Her passion for learning why, and her desire to build things helped her complete her career at ASU, while all along dedicating the rest of the time to becoming the best fencer she could be.

Fencing like a pro

Vie joined the ASU fencing team her sophomore year. As a Sun Devil, she won nearly a dozen medals and ranked in collegiate conferences. The year after she graduated from college, she became an assistant coach for the ASU team and once the season was over, she moved to New York City to train with the U.S. Women’s Epee team.

She is ranked in the top 100 in the world and has been a two-time Olympic alternate. Currently, she’s a hopeful for the 2020 Olympics.

In May, Vie and the U.S Women’s Epee Team won their first ever World Cup Title with a gold medal in Dubai.

🇺🇸🎉We made US History & are now World Cup Champions!!! Never before has a US Women’s Epee Team won gold at a World Cup & we did it together, as a team. @thathurleygurrl @thishurleygurrl @katholmes46 thank you for being my friends & my teammates. @andreygeva thank you for being our incredible coach. @teamk.fencing thank you for being my coach!! I don’t think you know how much you have truly inspired & helped me! @usfencing thank you for believing in our abilities & potential! @radicalfencing thank you for being my sponsor, @newyorkac thank you for supporting me, @lafencing thank you for my training & to all the women’s epeeists on our team, we were all a part of this and we will continue keepin it🔥 Of course thank you to @uaefencing for hosting us in this amazing city! We cannot wait to return!!!🥇🥇🥇🥇#uswomensepee #fencing #teamusa #ushistory #operationgold

A post shared by Natalie Vie (@supersonicnava) on

The first thing she did after the victory was head back to Arizona and visit her fencing club, the same one she started at when she was 18. She wanted to show kids at the club you don’t have to live in a city with a big fencing presence to make it big.

“Phoenix is not one of those hotbeds for fencing,” she said, but she wanted to encourage others to keep going. “This idea that you can’t do something because you’re too old or it’s not possible, it’s not true.”

Vie takes a different approach to preparing as a fencer. She loves nature, meditation, yoga and healthy living. She credits her success to her practice of single-pointed concentration and self-observation. Yoga, which she also teaches, has had a great effect on improving concentration while fencing. She’s also passionate about sustainability and environment conservation.

Having family close by helps and is another reason for her success. Recently, her sister Jerica, joined her in New York to conduct research on cortisol levels of high performer fencers. The younger Vie is a graduate student at Arizona State.

“She traveled around with me to pretty much every tournament,” Vie said. “I felt so good with my sister there, every tournament I was getting better and better.”

Her mother, Susan, will also be joining in the upcoming historic event.

Breaking barriers and making history

This weekend, Vie will become the first Latina fencer to represent the United States at the Pan American Games in Cuba.

“It hasn’t happened before because there’s a history of exclusion of Latinos in the sport,” she said.

That’s something Vie’s former coach, Arroyo, knows first hand. Growing up in Harlem, he remembers being rejected by other fencers because of the color of his skin.

“It gave me motivation to beat them,” he said.

Arroyo sees Vie’s success and the barrier she’s about to break and can’t help but feel pride.

“I lived through her when she fenced. I wanted to do something like that myself, which at that time was impossible.”

There’s another Latina in Vie’s life who sees her accomplishments as much more than personal.

“For any woman that is a Latina, and who has gone through a lot of obstacles in her life, we are now represented by Natalie,” said her mother, Susan. “It is a tremendous achievement for which we are all reflected in her figure.”

Vie is excited to be the first Latina fencer for Team USA at the games. She wants to set an example and inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

To the little girl, teenager or young adult interested in the sport she has this message: “Just start fencing, just do it, give yourself to it,” she said.

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Off Central: Arizonan to be first Latina fencer for US in Pan American Games