Fencing: For saberists, fencing is family affair
There have been plenty of sports families, but few have been as close as the fencing team’s Stone siblings. Senior Eliza Stone, junior Robert Stone and freshman Gracie Stone, joke about how similar they are to one another. They study the same language, are in the same concentration, fence the same weapon and have all been successful.
“We were homeschooled,” Gracie said, “so we needed to do some kind of sport, but we couldn’t play one that required a huge team.”
Eliza, the oldest, did ballet, so Gracie tried her hand at dancing with her sister.
“But, of course, ballet wasn’t for me,” Robert joked.
Looking for something all three siblings were interested in, the Stones actually got their start in fencing by chance.
“One day, our parents just saw a fencing flyer in a pizza parlor, and that was how we started,” Robert said.
The Stones started fencing in October of 2000 in a club called Fencing 2000 in their hometown of Chicago. Their initial experiences were definitely unique.
“Eliza and I showed up to our first practice in dresses!” Gracie said. “There was a renaissance fair near our house, so we thought it would be just like jousting.”
For Gracie, fencing was not immediately something she enjoyed, and she considered quitting. Her father, however, found a way to keep her motivated.
“I was a very frugal child, so my dad tricked me and said that he had already prepaid a year’s worth of membership,” Gracie said. “So I had to stick with it, and by the end of the year I loved it.”
The siblings all started off in fencing’s three different weapons — epee, sabre and foil. Robert started in sabre, but Gracie started off in foil, while Eliza cycled through all threeweapons. Eventually, all three ended up fencing in sabre. It was unusual, for a number of reasons.
“It’s not really common that siblings fence the same weapon,” Robert said.
“Chicago’s not really known as a great sabre area. The best scenes are Portland, Ore., and the East Coast,” Eliza said.
But regardless, the Stones found success in their chosen weapon. Much of this success was due to their coach and mentor, Hristo Etropolski, who had fenced for the Bulgarian national team in the 1980s.
“We would not have pursued fencing as much as we did if it weren’t for our coach, who had just come over from Bulgaria,” Eliza said.
“He basically created the Chicago fencing scene,” Gracie said. “He coached us through regionals and nationals, and we even dabbled in internationals.”
Funnily enough, a Hristo was also partly responsible for their coming to Princeton, but not Etropolski.
“It was such a coincidence,” Eliza said. “We were at nationals, and I met [Princeton head coach] Zoltan Dudas and [Princeton assistant coach] Hristo Hristov, who had fenced with our coach Hristo [Etropolski] on the Bulgarian national team. They recruited us to Princeton.”
Before that meeting, the Stones were only looking at colleges that were near them, and Princeton was not even a consideration, but now all three are here. Moreover, all three share similar academic interests. For example, all three are learning Arabic, with Robert and Gracie in the same class this semester, and Eliza and Robert in the same class next semester.
In fact, the Stones are all either in or considering the same major. Eliza came in wanting to study politics or philosophy, and deciding to combine her interests, concentrated in politics with a focus on political philosophy. Robert came to Princeton wanting to study history or classics and found that political philosophy worked for his interests too.
Not only do the two share a department, they share advisers — Eliza’s senior thesis adviser is also Robert’s junior paper adviser. Gracie does not yet know what she wants to major in, but she is taking a politics class this semester and thinking about following her sister and brother into the poltics department.
The Stones love fencing at Princeton.
“They’re all super friendly,” Gracie said of her teammates. “They make a lot of rock puns [because of our last name], so I’m called ‘Pebble.’ ”
Talking to them, one would never guess the reputation the Stones have while fencing.
“Eliza’s been told that she has crazy eyes when she’s on the strip,” Robert noted. “We use the visor masks while fencing, so you can see the eyes clearly. We play handball as a warm-up for practice, and it can get competitive. Very competitive.”
“Referees who talk to us are really surprised at how we act off the fencing strip,” Grace said. “We can be pretty scary while fencing, but we’re not like that otherwise.”
This season will be the only one that all three will be fencing for Princeton, with Eliza graduating in the spring. Both Robert and Eliza made NCAA nationals last year, where Eliza finished third and Robert finished 22nd, both in the sabre. Only two people can make it for each weapon for each gender, so it’s a possibility that all three will fence at the NCAA championships.
“It’s so much fun finally being on the same team with my brother and sister,” Gracie said.
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