The Academy 4R

There’s this second, it’s only a second, the second right after the scoring device buzzes. Everybody who’s watching the bout goes silent, stunned that this thrilling bout between two accomplished fencers could end with such a glaring blunder, Annie’s self-impalement on Francis’ foil as incomprehensible as Derek Jeter dropping a pop-up, Lebron James missing an uncontested layup, Gabby Douglas tripping over her feet during a floor exercise. I even notice that for the first time that morning I don’t hear any of the surrounding noises within the field house. Either the runners have stopped, tennis games ended, weight training halted, or I’m just too stunned to notice anything other than the sight of Annie’s body, suddenly limp in resignation, leaning helplessly against the tip of Francis’ bent foil.

Annie laughs. It’s the sound that breaks the silence that seems to last much longer than time would suggest, and the last sound I expected from someone so competitive, so driven. And it’s not one and done, she continues laughing, and is soon joined by Francis, then Coach Sarah, until finally it spreads around the strip, infecting both Academy and Bark Bay fencers.

Annie returns to her starting line, stands straight and throws her head back to issue an AAAAUUUGH that echoes both frustration and bemusement. Francis is already back at his line and has his mask off. Coach Sarah is laughing too hard to call the result, and Annie proceeds nonetheless, taking her mask off and, with a broad smile, salutes Francis, who returns the salute with an appreciative look that I would not have expected of him. They turn to salute Coach Sarah, almost doubled-over with laughter now, and as they meet in the middle of the strip to shake hands, Coach Dan begins a round of applause that ripples among the fencers. Beyond our strip, I catch a glimpse of two tennis players, towels over their shoulders, looking at us, and with warm smiles upon their faces, nodding.

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