HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY AMANI SMATHERS
Donna Au advanced toward her opponent as she prepared to execute her plan of attack.
Choose your weapon
Donna Au's inquisitiveness has led her to seek a variety of experiences in the world of sports.
She was on the varsity tennis team her last three years at Hawaii Baptist Academy. Au also played junior varsity basketball until the 11th grade, then switched to air riflery as a senior.
On The Fence
The three weapons used:
» Epee: A fencing weapon with triangular cross-section blade and a large bell guard. Hits are scored with the point only. Whole body is valid target.
» Foil: A fencing weapon with rectangular cross-section blade and a small bell guard. Target is the torso and hits are scored with the point only.
» Sabre: A fencing weapon with a flat blade and knuckle guard. Target is the body above the hips and points are scored with the point and the edge.
Karate, softball and soccer were sports the 2003 HBA graduate played as a youngster.
"I'm always trying new things. I think I've pretty much tried every sport that anyone has offered," Au said.
When she moved on to college at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., Au decided not to continue in tennis.
"I didn't think I was up to their level and I didn't want to be outdoors in the winter," said Au, who, contrary to that statement, discovered skiing and took snowboarding for a physical-education class.
"We go winter hiking in the White Mountains (of New Hampshire). We hiked to the top of Mount Washington (highest peak in New England) and sprint down the mountain. People wonder what us crazy kids are doing.
"I try to get out every weekend if I am done with my work."
Au also has skied Tuckerman's Ravine on the southeastern side of Mount Washington, a site that requires a 3-mile hike to reach the steep headwall and often results in just one downhill run a day.
She was looking for another challenge at the start of her sophomore season and spent some time with the squash team. Then her hallmate, Louisa Zouein, suggested Au try out for the fencing team.
"I had no experience, but I had seen it in movies and it seemed like fun. But collegiate fencing is a lot different than what you see in the movies," Au said.
Tufts fencing coach Jason Sachs said about 30 percent of the students who come out for the team have not fenced before.
"We have a range from those who qualify for the NCAA Championships to those just starting," Sachs said. "Donna wasn't very good in the beginning, but her competitiveness led her to stick with it. Fencing is a personal journey. It takes time and stubbornness to stick it out. Within a year, she was on our epee team."
Au experienced her first collegiate competition within the first month.
"It was an individual tournament. Coach thought it would be a good way for me to learn. He just threw me into it," Au said. "There were about 50 fencers and I think I finished about halfway, about 25th."
In addition to team practices, Au took private lessons at the Boston Fencing Club and Prise de Fer (another fencing club) to accelerate her knowledge of the basic techniques. She also practiced at the Salle Honolulu Fencing Club during the summer before her junior year.
It paid off for Au, who qualified for the NCAA Regionals last year.
In comparing fencing to basketball, Au said, "In fencing you are supposed to be intense, but not show it. You are always reading your opponent. You have to be calm and maintain your composure under pressure. If you lose your composure, it is easier for your opponent to read you and you will be defeated right away."
She began her fencing career in epee because that's where the team needed her most.
In epee, a fencer has 3 minutes to score five points or be leading in points when time expires by hitting the opponent with the point of the weapon.
The metal jackets, called lame, and the mask in sabre, are connected by an electric cord to a light that signals hits.
Au switched to sabre last fall because the team was short there.
"In sabre you don't score points by poking someone, but by slashing. It's much faster. The points (needed to win) can be accumulated in 5 to 10 seconds," Au said.
Au, who did volunteer work at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children and at St. Francis Medical Center while an HBA student, considered entering the medical profession.
She looked at schools in the Midwest and her choices came down to Tufts or Notre Dame.
"I felt Boston would be more diverse. The school spirit at Notre Dame is unbeatable, but I chose Tufts because I got a full academic ride. That was a big issue," Au said.
Set to graduate in December with a double major in biology and economics, Au has a new career goal.
She is taking a leave from the fencing team this semester to serve an internship with a bank in Boston.
"I tried to dissuade her from joining the land of grownups, but she wants to be successful in business," Sachs said. "The nice thing about Donna is she started out as a very quiet girl and grew up to be a team leader. As a coach, you don't often see that before your own eyes."
Au is the team president. As a part-time coach, Sachs asks team members to take some responsibilities. In Au's case, she helps organize practices and team activities. She makes sure the vans are available for road trips and teammates are there on time.
Au, a 2005-06 All-New England Small College academic team member and a repeater this year, plans to rejoin the fencing team this fall and return to epee competition.
Before that, she plans to do an internship on Wall Street this summer.
"I got the Investment Banking Summer Analyst position at Banc of America Securities, which is the investment bank of Bank of America," Au said.
"My hope is to go straight to Wall Street after graduation. I think it is going to be a great environment to work in."