BY ELIZABETH FRIEDLY // AJT
This summer, 17-year-old Noa Allen won’t be spent by the pool. While there’s bound to be plenty of staying up late and lazing around in the sun, a chunk of the local athlete’s vacation will be spent overseas competing with other teenagers from around the world in fencing as part of the 19th World Maccabiah Games.
Often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” the Maccabiah Games celebrate Jewish unity, culture and heritage through international sport. Participants gather every four years in Israel to compete the year following the Summer Olympic Games.
As the world’s third-largest sporting competition, the Maccabiah will bring more than 7,000 athletes from 60-plus countries to vie for top honors. Exciting news for fencing fans is that 2013 will mark the first year that both Open and Junior Division tournaments will be held.
Allen will be competing in the latter category less than a decade after her “love at first sight” experience with the sport. Her passion for fencing began in 2004, when two GHA students, Sada Jacobson and Emily Jacobson, went to the Olympics to compete; Allen saw them competing on TV.
“I called everybody to watch it,” recalled Allen.
Gathered around the screen with family and friends, both Allen and her brother Ari were instantly hooked. Ari has since left the sport to pursue other interests, but Allen continues to spend every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday practicing for four hours at Nellya Fencers Club, where she trains with coach Arkady Burdan.
When asked, she readily admits to just how time consuming it can be, but that “everyone helps everyone.” It’s turned out that the payoff for her hard work is huge: Last summer, Allen sent in her application for the Maccabiah Games, and it was only roughly a month ago that she got the news that she’d been accepted.
When the news came in, Allen was actually fast asleep.
“My mom came into my room – I was sleeping and she woke me up – and she told me,” said Allen of the moment she found out. “I just got so excited. I had the biggest smile on my face.”
She describes the Maccabiah Games as an opportunity to “do my favorite sport in my favorite place.” As a child, she always held an interest in athletics, dabbling in soccer, tennis and ballet, but it wasn’t until she discovered fencing that something special was sparked. This trip to Israel will be Allen’s third, but that certainly hasn’t lessened her excitement.
“She’s been going to national competitions pretty much since she started,” said her mother, Mimi Zieman. “But there are always nerves in this sport. This is her dream, to go to the Maccabi Games. It’s kind of been her ‘carrot at the end of the stick’ to keep her committed to this thing.”
When Allen isn’t practicing, she indulges her creativity with hobbies such as drawing, painting, cooking and movie-making. She plans to stay involved in fencing through college, but doesn’t think another Maccabiah Games will be in her future.
“I guess it’s gotten a little harder because of the time [commitment], but I still love the sport just the same. I just overall love it,” said Allen. “I love coming up with strategies and working hard and exercising.”
“They call it ‘physical chess,’” her mother added. “So you have to learn how to read your opponent, anticipate what they’re going to do and try to come up with a strategy that can beat them. As a spectator sport, it’s very, very fast.”
Zieman laughs: “I can tell you after watching her for years and her brother, I still can’t tell what’s going on.”
From July 17 through 30, Allen will represent the United States along with 18 other Junior Division fencers from around the country. Thus far, she is the only fencer from Georgia in the 2013 Games.
Before she’s off, though, Allen still has to raise $8,000– the going rate for all Junior athletes. Luckily, both Allen and her mother said they’re on track, edging on towards the halfway mark.
Soon it will only be a matter of time. But fencing has always been about the anticipation and facing forward.
“It’s not just, ‘let me move as quick as I can,’” said Zieman. “I know her coaches are always telling her [to focus on], ‘what are you going to do next.’ They’re supposed to always to be thinking ahead.”