Bernard Witek took the word vacation out of his summer off from school.
The resident of Rego Park, Queens, interned at Madison Global Partners in Manhattan, and then took a train and bus from his internship to South Hackensack, N.J., for three to four hours of fencing training, and traveled to Dallas where he won 13 men’s sabre bouts in one day to capture the 2016 Division III National Championship.
“I’m very happy about it,’’ the 17-year-old senior at the Loyola School in Manhattan told CNY. “I was going into it with the same mind-set as any other tournament. I was going through it touch by touch and bout by bout. The more elimination bouts I won, the more comfortable I was.
“I got to the final and realized I could win this.”
Witek won five bouts in pool play and eight bouts in a single-elimination championship format.
Patrick Durkan, who coaches Witek at Durkan Fencing Academy, said, “It’s very difficult emotionally. There may be 200 participants in a tournament and only one is going to win it. Usually, the winner is going to lose one bout earlier in the day. It’s not about raw talent. It’s about technique.
“(Bernard’s) disciplined and works hard. If you tell him something once, he’ll do it. He’s lifting three to four times a week and is very fit for his age.”
Witek took up the sport as an eighth-grader when his mother saw an advertisement for recreational fencing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He tried it and decided to stick with it for a year before stepping up to train more frequently and rigorously with Durkan.
“We are so proud of Bernard—not only is he a champion fencer, he was also recently elected our student body leader and he is an excellent student as well,” said Tony Oroszlany, president of the Loyola School.
Fencing became an organized sport in the 19th century and was a men’s competition at the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. In 1924, women’s fencing was added to the Olympics. There are three fencing weapons—epee, foil and sabre. In sabre, competitors like Witek earn points by striking an opponent from the waist up with the point, cutting edge or upper third of the sword.
Witek will soon start his senior year at Loyola, where he will run cross country and play baseball while preparing for college. He also will continue fencing, training at Durkan Fencing Academy’s new satellite location at Regis High School. Loyola and Regis, which are both Jesuit-run schools, are located a block from each other, shortening Witek’s commute to train.
“I would expect him to be a starter on any college team in the country,’’ said Durkan, a fencer for four years at Columbia University and the 1998 senior national champion in men’s sabre.