Photo of Mary Hardig

Mary Hardig '18


Mary Hardig '18 is carving a reputation on the collegiate fencing circuit as the lone female member of the McKendree Bearcats squad, which made its debut last fall.

Because the team does not yet have other female members, Mary must face male competitors. Her opponents are often surprised when she takes off her wire mask at the end of a bout. “They give me confused looks all the time when we go up to test equipment before a bout,” she says.

Mary competes in epee, foil and saber, her favorite. “My own technique is very different from anyone else’s because I fence three weapons. An epee is a stabbing weapon in which the whole body is target,” she explains. “A foil is also a stabbing weapon but only the torso and the neck is target. The saber is a cutting weapon, where everything above the waist is target. I love them all, but saber was my first weapon and the one I fence most often.”

Like some fencers who salute the sky or kiss their blade, Mary has a pre-bout ritual: she clenches her weaponless left fist. Before every tournament she silently thanks her coaches, past and present, for all they have taught her, and her teammates for their inspiration and encouragement.

“I finish off this ritual with a prayer that I live up to expectations, and then I listen to my inspiration song on repeat until it’s time to fence.”

With roots in ancient swordplay and military training, and terms that reflect its French and Italian origins, fencing might be considered a sport for the wealthy or elite. Not true, Mary insists.

Quotation Graphic

“Anyone at any given time can learn how to fence!”

Her career began in high school (Marian Catholic) and continued with the Northwest Indiana Fencing Club. When the time came to choose a college, she “not only wanted an education, I wanted to fence and have fun doing it. I checked out McKendree and it seemed like a place that would feel like home to me. I’m very happy with my decision. I’ve made many friends.”

Her seven teammates have become like brothers, she says. “We share lots of experiences together. They help me and inspire me to do better. They are always there for me. Sometimes fencing the opposite gender can be a little overwhelming so they ensure me that I did well, and that I will continue to do well, even if it means trying a little harder.”

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