Brooklyn Athlete Secures Spot in Olympic Fencing Team

Anne Cebula's Olympic headshot. Photo: Supplied/USA Fencing

By: Megan McGibney

The Paris Summer Olympics begins in July – and one of Brooklyn’s own will compete there!

Bensonhurst native Anne Cebula is a first-time U.S. Olympic Fencing team member. The rising senior at Barnard College has been dreaming of this moment since she first saw a fencing match on TV at age 10.

“I was watching it during the 2008 Olympics,” she said. “I was enraptured. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

Cebula knew then she wanted to fence. But when her parents felt the training and clubs were too expensive, she put her dreams aside for the time being.

However, her fencing dreams reawakened when she chose to attend Brooklyn Technical High School because the school has a fencing team.

Cebula said she did not pick up a blade until close to the end of her first year. Instead, her coach, Bert Yaged, had 50 students exercise by running up and down the school’s eight staircases to work up aerobic strength. By the time Yaged opened the equipment closet that May, only 10 students remained.

“Fencing is an aerobic activity,” Yaged said. “There is the footwork and the lunge capacity. Your legs have to be strong and you have to be aerobically fit. It’s a tough sport to learn, but once you learn it’s fun.”

In fencing, there are three disciplines: foil, epee, and saber. Yaged gave Cebula the epee blade, the biggest and heaviest, because of her height (she’s 5’10”).

Soon she was competing in city tournaments and became the NYC PSAL Girls Epee Individual Champion in 2016. In her senior year of high school, Cebula became team captain.

Although the pandemic, like other athletes, put a pause in her training, she fenced at Barnard College and then began competing internationally in countries like Hungary and Russia. Competing in the latter placed her on the Olympic team, she said.

“I held onto that moment in 2008,” Cebula smiled. “Passion can override a lot.”

As Cebula prepares for the Olympics, she wants to be careful not to overtrain, though she admits it is tempting.

As her competition starts the day after the Opening Ceremonies, Cebula said she looks forward to winning a medal with the U.S. fencing team.

“Anne Cebula’s remarkable journey from Brooklyn Tech’s epee captain to representing the USA at the Olympics is a testament to her dedication and talent,” said Courtney Ulrich, executive director of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation. “The entire Brooklyn Tech alumni community is immensely proud to see her achieve such extraordinary heights, and we are excited to cheer her on as she competes on the world stage in Paris this summer.”

Yaged said he is proud of his former student, and pointed out that most Olympic-level fencers start training at five or six years old, while Cebula began ten years later.

Although Cebula said she will retire from fencing after the Olympics, she is elated to fulfill her childhood dream.

“Passion will take you so far,” she said. “You have to go in loving the sport. Be okay with either outcome, one step at a time.”

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