Back in 2004, Phil Sbarbaro took his daughter to the Fencing Academy of Virginia so they could start a new sport together, thinking it was bound to be fun.
Fast forward 15 years later, and Sbarbaro is a three-time U.S. National Champion—making him one of the top veteran saberists in the country—who is about to make his seventh trip to the Veteran World Championships in Cairo, Egypt this October.
To be chosen to represent the United States team, which is divided into categories of varying age groups and genders, each fencer has to compete in a series of tournaments until the top four winners of each group are selected.
The Fencing Academy of Virginia is the world’s largest fencing school, led by owner Alex Ryjik, who hails from St. Petersburg, Russia and opened the academy over 30 years ago to teach respect, honor, good sportsmanship and manners through the art of fencing.
“Fencing is one of those super intellectual sports that attracts people who are intelligent, wise and instinctual,” says Ryjik. While he doesn’t coach as much as he used to, Ryjik continues to work with a select group of individuals who he believes truly have potential, which includes Sbarbaro. “He understands what it takes to really get to the top and he is very self-driven. He’s a leader in the academy but he’s also a leader in the arena of life.”
Prior to trying the sport, Sbarbaro studied at several prestigious universities across the U.S., including Northwestern University and Georgetown University, before becoming an esteemed general counsel in the Northern Virginia region who has appeared on over 40 federal district and appellate courts around the country.
Today, Sbarbaro competes in the Veteran 70 to 79 years old Men’s Sabre competitions, which is the most aggressive of the three disciplines within the sport. Yet for Sbarbaro, the activity is far more than a hobby he excels in.
“The complexity of the sport requires a certain person because there’s really nothing left of you when a match is over,” Sbarbaro explains. “It’s a totally unforgiving sport. You make the slightest mistake and it costs you, you don’t focus 100% and it costs you. I sail and play tennis and neither of those sports are as demanding as this one. It’s never the same twice.”
Sbarbaro is not the only Virginia resident who will be representing the Academy from Oct. 5 to 11 at the Veteran National Championships, as Chris Matt will be competing in the 50 to 59 years old Men’s Sabre competition for his second time.
According to Ryjik, Sbarbaro has over 40 medals, if not more, yet he’s never medaled at the World Championships, which is his ultimate goal.
And with the event approaching, Sbarbaro is calm, ready and focused.
“I can’t be excited because I am the instrument,” says Sbarbaro. “I have to do it.”
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