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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Girl, 13, a fencing 'stealth fighter'

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Joe Zapataoliva couldn't help but laugh at the sight of two of his best students facing off against each other at yesterday's Aloha State Games fencing competition at Ala Wai Clubhouse.

Rebecca Moss, right, is 5 feet, 100 pounds and a national-caliber fencer. Moss, 13, whose family lives in Kona part of the year, is shown in her under-19 epee match against Kaleb Acklin, whom she beat 5-1. Rebecca Moss says fencing is challenging, both physically and emotionally.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

On the left was 6-foot-3, 218-pound Timothy Sullivan, a 15-year-old whose aw-shucks smile belies a hard-charging fencing style.

On the right was 5-foot, 100-pound Rebecca Moss, a just-turned-13 cheerleader whose best weapon is a still jab to the foot.

On cue, Sullivan rushed forward, epee first, initiating a furious flurry of steel pings.

"Watch this," Zapataoliva said.

Working in high-speed reverse mode, Moss deftly deflected each stab then, in one blind nanosecond, shifted her weight and thrust forward.

Point and bout: Moss.

"She's a stealth fighter," Zapataoliva said. "She watches, watches, watches, then . . . kaboom!"

Moss' parents, Rick and Roxanna, were unfazed at the display.

"She has two older brothers (Travis and Justin) who used to chase her around with broomsticks," Roxanna said. "She had to learn how to defend herself."

The Moss family lives in Mesa, Ariz., but spends five months a year at their summer home in Kona. It was in Kona two years ago that Moss began her fencing lessons with Zapataoliva, a family friend, at the Silverswords Fencing Academy.

"She had a spark," said Zapataoliva. "She's great in competition. She's not afraid of anything. What I like about her is she's very willing to learn and to help others."

Zapataoliva said Moss has the ideal stature for a fencer. Coupled with her natural quickness, it makes her as difficult to defend against as she is to hit.

In Arizona, Moss receives instruction from Skip Surtz, a five-time Olympian. Surtz brought Moss along slowly; only six months ago did he clear her to compete.

At a recent national competition in Kentucky, Moss placed ninth overall in her youth division. She placed first at another competition in El Paso, Texas, and is ranked No. 17 nationally for her age group.

In her first stab at the Aloha State Games, Moss showed why she's a near-lock to be invited to the Junior Olympics trials next year.

The only girl in the under-19 epee competition, Moss stormed through preliminary pool play, where she turned back a parade of bigger, stronger boys.

She beat Kaleb Acklin, 5-1, in her first match, fell just short against fellow prodigy Josh Thurlow (4-5), then rallied to beat Sullivan (5-4), Mark Petersen (5-0) and Joe Polanski (5-3).

"She's tough," Sullivan said. "Sometimes you thrust and it goes right over her head."

Though Moss usually has other girls to compete against, she said she there isn't much difference in the level of competition.

Rebecca Moss says fencing is challenging, both physically and emotionally.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"A lot of the boys are bigger and stronger than me, but a lot of girls are like that, too," she said. "It doesn't really matter. The blade doesn't know who is behind it.

"I have certain moves that I do because I'm shorter," she said. "I keep my distance and, like my coach says, I live and die by my speed."

Moss, who has also used foils and is thinking about trying sabers, says fencing is deceptively challenging.

"It's challenging physically," she said. "But it's also a lot more emotional than people think. It's really fun, but it's different."

Robert Becker, chairman of the United States Fencing Association-Hawai'i Division and event commissioner for yesterday's competition, said he's thrilled at how well Moss, Thurlow and other young competitors in Hawai'i are performing.

Of the 57 USFA members in Hawai'i, about 30 participated in the Aloha State Games, at least half of them in the under-19 categories.

"That's the thing I'm happiest about," said Becker, a four-time state epee champion. "These young people are the future of our sport."