Justina Lam (’21) makes the Fencers Club her second home


Justina Lam ('21)

Justina Lam poses in her UPenn college gear alongside the equipment that led her to become a Junior Olympic Silver Medalist in the sport of fencing.

On her routine, ten-minute walk from Penn Station, surrounded by the bustle of 33rd street, she drags her four-foot-long, bright red, bag of gear. When she arrives, she goes into the elevator. The elevator ride is silent, yet she is mentally preparing for the rest of her night.

Eyes up, Justina Lam (‘21) walks into a place of familiar memories–Fencers Club. The place where she merely learned to be a Junior Olympic Silver Medalist, how to represent Team USA in the Junior World Cups three times, and become remembered by Lee Kiefer, one of the top five Division 1 fencers worldwide in Women’s Foil.
The extent of “fencing” to Justina used to be lightsabers in Star Wars and swords in the Princess Bride. As an eager nine-year-old, she would go across the street to a local fencing club where her love for the sport was cultivated. With strategy and skill, local fencing became national fencing. And national fencing became international fencing.
Justina says that fencing is like playing an intense video game. She is always looking for any small movement to warn her of a coming attack or an impending threat.

“I am watching for any mistakes my opponent may make that I can exploit,” Justina said. “There is a limited amount of space to move and if we are too far apart it would be difficult to score a point. But if we are too close together, it’s dangerously easy for my opponent to score on me.”

Yet when the referee bellows “Halt,” the opponent that could not be too close, is a friend. The same friend that Justina warms up, shares equipment, and gets dinner with. She has found an international community of athletes, “from eight to eighty-year-olds,” while exploring cities and countries far beyond the United States. Justina has built friendships that aren’t affected by individual competition, but rather thrive based on a shared love for fencing. Something that will always be more than just a sport.

Even so, Justina has had to sacrifice. Evenings with friends, lunch breaks in cafeterias, Halloween parties, and Fourth of July celebrations have all been missed due to fencing.

“At least twice, I have eaten Thanksgiving dinner out of a plastic and tin foil box as an in-flight meal in an airplane,” Justina said.

The moment the bell rings at the end of a school day, instead of going to an after-school club, Justina rushes to the train station. She has to make a four-hour round trip commute to the Fencers Club several times a week, but she makes it work. She knows the clear distinction between what can be completed in a moving vehicle, and what can be done at a desk. Evidently, typing lab reports and essays are completed in a moving vehicle.

“I have learned to sleep, eat, and do work in the car and on the train without getting pasta sauce on the ceiling. Yes, that did happen once,” Justina said.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Justina will continue her fencing career and is thrilled to have already met her teammates. She plans to compete within the NCAA while also occasionally visiting the Fencers Club for practices, especially on vacations that she has during the school year.

Eyes up, Justina walks into the fencing practice. But when she looks around, she sees more than just her surroundings of strips and impassioned fencers. More than just a place.

“There’s a spot where I finally pulled off that really difficult skill I had been practicing for weeks, right next to where I had missed it 100 times and learned from every mistake,” Justina said. “There’s [a] spot on the floor that probably still has my blood on it. There’s the section of the room where we warmed up before every practice. There’s the place where my teammate managed to accidentally hit the ceiling while fencing. And the locker room ceiling tile, covered in marks from years of people playing with it and lightly stabbing it with the tips of their blades.”

Foils down, this is where she has made her home.