Photo by Chung Chow
In a sport dominated by Europeans, it is notable a young Canadian is among the world’s top fencing prospects.
But those close to Natasha Kis-Toth aren’t surprised. The current national cadet ladies’ champion has always displayed both the athleticism and determination to reach such heights.
“We were at the park at Dixon school one day, when Natasha was three or four, and she was playing on the monkey bars,” recalls her mom Cari. “It was easy for her going up the bars but much more difficult coming down. But even though her arms hurt she didn’t want to give up.”
That determination is still just as apparent now that Natasha is a 16-year-old student at Victoria’s St. Michael’s University school, where she received its Nelson Arthur Hyland Award scholarship.
She commutes home to Richmond each weekend, focusing on her homework Saturdays and training with her Dynamo Fencing Club coach Victor Gantsevich on Sundays.
As she prepared for the 2017 Pan American Junior/Cadet championships Feb. 27 to March 5 in Havana, Cuba, Kis-Toth spoke optimistically about improving on a third-place finish at her first Pan-Am appearance a year ago.
“Because I was so close to winning gold last year that’s definitely my goal this year,” she said.
In the athletic world, Kis-Toth is what is referred to as a natural. She’s excelled in a gamut of sports from softball to hockey and basketball to swimming, and on top of that still found time to take tap dancing and piano lessons. But nothing ever quite captivated her like fencing, which she was introduced to in Grade 4 at St. Joseph’s the Worker Catholic Elementary School.
“I remember coming home and I couldn’t shut up about it,” she laughed. “I was beaming. It was so much fun for me and always the highlight of my day. It was the first sport that was like that.”
Despite having to reduce her training time to accommodate attending school out of town, fencing is still a high priority for the honour roll student who hopes to land a university scholarship.
“Over the years I’ve been fencing, especially since I switched to èpèe, I’ve been getting deeper into the sport,” she said. “I think I’m attracted by the combination of it being a physical and mental activity and the strategy of it. I love to compete.”
Since she began representing Dynamo Fencing Club competitively a few years ago, Kis-Toth has already been to eight countries. She fared well in many of those events, while also gaining valuable experience. And able to tap into a relentless personal pride, Kis-Toth is determined to leave every competition having improved.
“She’s like a sponge. She takes everything in,” said Igor Ga ntsevich, her coaching mentor at Dynamo. “She has a really good feeling for the sport. Her movement, footwork and speed and technical skills from eight years of lessons are superb. She has the tools to even one day become an Olympian.”
Kis-Toth has a great appreciation and respect for those throughout the fencing community, notably her colleagues and coaches at Dynamo but also athletes from around the world. While volunteering at last weekend’s Peter Bakonyi World Cup competition at the Richmond Olympic Oval, she noted the closeness of the fencing community.
“You can’t walk 10 metres without seeing someone you know and everyone loves the sport as much as you do,” she said.
But Kis-Toth reserves a special appreciation for her parents.
“They’re both loved in the fencing community, and they’re my heroes,” she said. “They were both athletic themselves, though not to the extent I am now, and always there with unconditional support. My dad (Frank) shows an incredible willingness to be involved and is an armourèr (which is akin to an equipment manager on a baseball team), while my mom is always there to offer positive advice and to cheer me on.”