Stefani Kahookele recalls being captivated by the fencing competition during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
“I played other sports, but none of them really appealed to me,” the 4-foot-11 San Franciscan said. “Fencing was pretty cool. I wanted to try it; you get to use swords. The weapon was appealing.”
Kahookele, who lives with her parents and younger brother in the Golden Gate Heights section of The City, signed up for the San Francisco Fencers Club’s summer camp. She soon discovered that the weapon, and the sport, was indeed very appealing.
The 14-year-old swashbuckler had won three or four local tournaments, but it was at nationals in Cincinnati on Oct. 3 that she locked up her spot as a legitimate force in the sport of foil fencing.
Ninety-one fencers battled. After dropping just one of her six bouts in pool competition, Kahookele found herself in 26th position. Five direct elimination bouts later, the surprised and exhausted foilist ended the day as the Division II bronze medalist.
“In two years, to have these kinds of results is pretty amazing,” said Oleksiy Fortunatov, the popular Ukrainian-born coach of S.F. Fencers. “She is a very hard worker. She trained and prepared hard the whole summer.”
While juggling her studies at Lowell High School, where she is a freshman, Kahookele manages to attend four classes and two private lessons each week at the San Francisco Fencers Club.
Launched in April of 2006 with only three fencers — the two sons and niece of manager-owner Miriam Khoshnevissan — the club has grown to more than 200 kids.
Males wishing to be Zorro are predominant; thus, Kahookele spars primarily with what Fortunatov terms, “mean, tough boys” while adding, “the boys are saying, ‘Wow, it’s not so easy fencing with Stefani like it used to be.’”
Her style is a defensive one. Playing a game of strategy, she will lull her opponent into thinking that Kahookele is in attack mode while she quickly and confidently changes gears, confusing the opponent and scoring points.
Citing world history as her favorite subject in school, Kahookele may see and experience much of the world as her international competitive fencing career begins in February. She’ll be traveling to Paris to compete in the 14-and-under category in the world finals.
“I think that it’ll be good results if she makes top 32 in the world,” Fortunatov said.
San Francisco Fencers Club
WHERE: 4000 Balboa St., San Francisco
INFO: (415) 668-3623, www.sffencers.com
FENCING STYLES: Foil, thrusting weapon to the torso area; Sabre, cutting, thrusting, slashing above the waist; Epee, heavy thrusting to the entire body, head to toe
KAHOOKELE RANKING: Unranked entering nationals, she jumped to level B, skipping E, D and C