SALT LAKE CITY -- While Martin Gravis is usually in his law office or in a courtroom as a public defender in Weber County, he also can be found at the Wasatch Fencing Club in Kaysville volunteering as a coach and armourer. Most recently, he was assisting the club in its sponsoring of the 2nd Annual Great Salt Lake Fencing Open at the Utah State Fair Park.
“I test the equipment to make sure everything’s working right before they go up and fence and they use it,” Gravis explained. “I make sure they don’t have any dead spots in the masks to make sure they’re safe.”
Surrounded in his booth by fencing gear he attends to, it appeared that he was a man behind the scenes, and nothing more.
To think as much would be a mistake.
Even in his early 50s, Gravis will suit up and fence in tournaments himself, although he doesn't think too highly of his abilities on the strip.
“I’ve been fencing for probably about eight years now,” said Gravis. “I’m not very good. I’m old and slow and fat.”
Tournament Director Ron Hendricks, who has been involved with fencing in the area since the 80’s, had seemingly high respect and admiration for Gravis.
“Over the last few years he actually enjoying fencing veterans especially, but he just enjoys fencing,” said Hendricks. “He’s having a lot of fun, and he does for the pure reason that he enjoys it.”
Yet all of this begs the question; how does a middle-aged attorney suddenly get involved with a sport like fencing?
“I’ve known Ron for about 19 years,” Gravis reminisced. “My son and his daughter went to the same babysitter when they were 2 years old. That’s when I met Ron.”
Since then, Gravis’ son, Ian, expressed interest in the sport. As a result, Martin was frequently at the dedicated fencing facility of Wasatch Fencing, and began to volunteer for the non-profit organization.
“I started helping out just hauling stuff to tournaments and then I started to help coach the kids on the strip,” Gravis said with a smile. “Then my son says, ‘You can’t coach, you don’t fence!’ so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’”
Gravis said he was never much of an athlete when he was younger, and finds that fencing is something that he can be somewhat competitive in.
“I get to go to tournaments and fence with guys my age,” said Gravis, “I don’t always have to fence against the kids.”
Although he’s found fencing to be enjoyable for himself, Gravis is also aware of the impact that he and the events he helps with have on the youth involved.
“These are the biggest tournaments a lot of these kids will ever go to,” said Gravis. “There’s some that compete on the national level, but a lot of these kids don’t compete in tournaments this big.”
Fifteen-year-old Cindy Shen of Kaysville started fencing after seeing the event in the Summer Olympics, and enjoys the social aspect of tournaments.
"I’ve only been to a few (tournaments),“ said Shen. ”But I know quite a few people already and they’re really nice.”
The size of the tournament along with new faces to fence against combine together to help the youth.
“If they get to go to the next level it’s not quite as a shock to them,” Gravis continued. “You go to a national tournament and in one event there may be 200 people.”
The Wasatch Fencing Club belongs to the Utah/Southern Idaho Division, and includes more than 200 people.
“We produce some really high quality fencers for such a small division,” said Gravis. “Ron’s son was an All-American at Duke.”
Dylan Nollner, a two-time All-American at Duke, is another prominent fencing product out of Ogden who will go to training camp to qualify for the Olympics.
Other fencers from the area have gone on to play at schools like Stanford and MIT.
More information about Wasatch Fencing can be found at wasatchfencing.com.
Contact reporter Brandon Garside at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BGarsideSE