“I learned discipline from my own life experiences. I didn’t learn it from sport.” “My fencing has benefited from that discipline. It brings me to fencing practice everyday.”
Andy Shaw interviews Iris Zimmermann at the Summer Nationals in the 2010 Atlanta, GA
Iris and Felicia Zimmermann and Ann Marsh
Fencer Hopes to Make Point with Win at Championships
FIRST PLACE IS ONLY GOAL OF NEW YORK’S ZIMMERMANN
By Mike Spence/The Gazette
U.S. fencing star Iris Zimmermann says she doesn’t like to set goals for herself.
No wonder. Even when she achieves milestones she still isn’t satisfied.
Take this season for example.
Zimmermann became the first American fencer in history to win medals at four consecutive World Cup Events (in foil). Was that good enough? No.
She won her second under-seventeen world foil title in December. Was that good enough? No.
Zimmermann was named the overall junior World Cup foil champion. Was that good enough? No, again.
“I never set certain goals for myself”, said Zimmermann, “My goals are pretty high. It’s never enough to achieve a goal. I want to do better.”
So, doing well at the U.S. Fencing Association’s Division 1 National Championships that began at 9 a.m. today at the Sports Center 1 at the Olympic Sports Complex won’t be enough.
Zimmermann wants to win. She thinks she can win.
Her chances improved this week when her sister, Felicia, withdrew because of an injury and Ann Marsh did not enter.
“Since my sister and Ann Marsh aren’t here, I’ve got a better chance to win.” Zimmermann said.
A victory at nationals would all but lock up a spot on the senior world team. Zimmermann is in third place in the US national foil standings with 4,090 points. Erin Smart is fourth with 3,395 and Monique De Bruin is fifth with 2,800. The top four make the world team.
“I’m in pretty good shape, but this would help me even more.” Zimmermann said.
If Zimmermann makes the team, it would cap an already impressive year. But Zimmermann isn’t easily satisfied.
“I don’t just say I want to make the world team,” she said, “I want to make the world team and do well there.
Credit the determined attitude to Zimmermann’s parents, Thomas and Christina.
Thomas started Iris and Felicia on the piano when they were very young. Christina was always pushing her daughters to do well in school. They have been enormously successful in both.
Iris and Felicia have both won world fencing titles. Both are 4.0 students. Felicia is an undergraduate student at the University of Rochester. Iris is studying piano and flute at the Rochester school of art.
“My parents helped me a lot”, said Zimmermann, “My mother pushed me in school.”
Zimmermann used fencing as the carrot to get his daughters to practice. They couldn’t go to fencing workouts unless they practiced the piano for at least a half-hour each day.
“He would always use that. ‘If you don’t do your homework, if you don’t practice the piano, you can’t go to fencing practice.” Zimmermann said.
The result was two daughters who didn’t shirk their daily responsibilities. Iris said it has made her a better fencer.
“I learned discipline from my own life experiences. I didn’t learn it from sport.” Zimmermann said, “My fencing has benefited from that discipline. It brings me to fencing practice everyday.”
Beyond Her Years
By Colleen Walker Mar
Iris Zimmerman was a little squirt when she started going to the Rochester Fencing Center. She was three years old and very shy, only there to watch her older sister, Felicia, take lessons.
“If someone went over to talk to her, she would run behind her mom,” said Rochester Fencing Center and Women’s Foil National coach Buckie Leach. “She always wore really pretty dresses, white socks and those black shiny shoes. She looked like a little monster in them because back then she wasn’t really built for dresses.”
Although she was shy, there was still something else about this little girl. Iris would not speak to coach Nat Goodhartz, unless she was at eye-level. At three years old, she refused to speak to Nat’s knees.
Over the next few years, the people at the Rochester Fencing Center became like a surrogate family to Iris and her sister.
“It was always like a playground at the fencing center,” said Iris, now 16. “Nat even pulled my teeth for me every time I had a loose tooth. It was like family atmosphere and it was so fun to be there.”
Thirteen years later, Iris is quite the character, not to mention a very successful American fencer. She is a high school sophomore who studies math, English, advance placement European history, piano, dance, and chemistry at the school of arts in Rochester. On the weekend, she flies all over the world making US history.
In 1995 she became the first fencer from the United States to win a World Championship in any age category, any weapon. She was just 14 and believed to be the youngest fencer to ever win a World Championship. It was an overwhelming experience for her.
“Everyone was pretty excited because no one knew an American could do well, so there were a lot of people cheering me on from countries that could never medal, like Israel team or Japanese team. The countries that were underdogs were all cheering me on,” said Zimmerman. “It gave them much hope. It was such an exciting experience.”
In March she became the second American (Felicia was the first) to win the Junior World Cup title in women’s foil, a title given to the fencer who finishes the season ranked number one in the Under-20 Junior World Cup standings. She won medals at four consecutive Junior World Cups in the fall and never looked back. Iris and Felicia are the first siblings to win this title.
“That was REALLY unexpected for me,” she said. “It was surprising because I didn’t expect it. The Junior World Cup tournaments I went to before I placed, like, 64th.”
She followed that up with her second World Under-17 Championship in Tenerife, Spain. Two days later she won the silver medal in the Under-20 women’s foil, making her the first American two win two medals at the same event.
Unfortunately, Felicia, who competed in the under-20 in 1995, was not in Spain this year to lend her support.
“In ’95, Felicia kept Iris loose between bouts by talking about guys,” said Leach. “This time I had to do it. So we discussed which guys at the World Championships were good-looking, and which ones she liked. It was kind of weird.
“I wanted to see if she could win again,” he said. “With the second time, the pressure of being expected to win was kind of tough.”
Of course, Zimmerman came through again. Her successes are having an impact on the mentality of her peers when it comes to winning. Fencers in the US have been accustomed to being also-rans. Not for long. The 1997 team had five finals appearances, tied only by the 1996 team. ”It’s gotten better,” Zimmerman said. “People are like, ‘if she can do it I can do it.’ We’re out there training just as hard as the other countries are. We’ve got the same methods. We’ve got the talent. Just go out there. It’s not like before. I just want to tell them when they put on the mask no one cares what country, what the fencer’s bio is. I’m not reading their bio. I don’t care what country they’re from. I’m from the United States—that’s nice too.”
She credits Leach for pointing her in the right direction from the start.
“Ever since the beginning, he’s always taught us never to have a big head. He says, ‘that’s good you did that, but can you do it again? What else is there?’ and that’s my feeling too. That’s great I did that, but there are other things.”
So, a month after taking names at the junior worlds, she won the USFA Division 1 national championships at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center in April. She is the youngest national women’s foil champion in history.
The day after she won, she gave Executive Director Michael Massik and members of the bout committee a thrashing about how small the women’s foil trophy was compared to the 19-year-old men’s foil trophy. She promised to do something about that inequality someday. Everyone had a good laugh, but you should know that she’ll probably follow through on that promise.
“Iris is exuberant about pretty much everything,” Leach said. “She’ll be fencing bouts and she’s got a real serious look on her face. Then the director calls halt and she’s smiling and joking around.”
“I love Iris’s personality,” said her sister Felicia. “She is incredibly easy going, and is always very happy. Sometimes people think she is goofy because she is so lovable, but she is also a very hard worker. Some people think of her as intimidating, but she is very squishy. She loves stuffed animals and Anne Geddes pictures of those really cute babies.”
Leach agrees that Iris possesses an incredible work ethic. “Iris doesn’t take time off for anything. I have to actually tell her to take time off. The other day she told me she had an AP exam on Saturday and another on Friday. She was thinking about coming in for a lesson on Thursday and I had to say, ‘why don’t you take a day off?’”
With that kind of drive, Zimmerman is sure to meet her goals at winning the Junior World Cup title again. She also wants to win both the World under-20 and World under-17 championships together next year.
“My long-term goal is to make the Olympic team and I want to medal in the Olympics,” she said. “I don’t want to make the Olympic team just to say I made the Olympic team. There are a lot of people who want to make the Olympic team, but what makes you different from the rest is the medal, that piece of metal you get.”
Last summer Zimmerman, then 15, went to Atlanta to watch Felicia compete in the Olympic Games, and she attended a reception for the U.S. team. Steve Sobel, US Fencing Association president, was asked to introduce the team. Afterwards, he realized he hadn’t introduced Iris, so he went to her to apologize.
“She immediately replied that I had no reason to apologize,” Sobel said. “She said I had introduced the Olympic team, and she hadn’t earned the right to be introduced with that team. She quickly added, though, that she had every intention of earning the right to an introduction in the future. She proved in one brief conversation humility, diplomacy, and maturity beyond her teenage years.”