Philly Faces: Fencing Phenom Maia Weintraub

two people fencing
Maia Weintraub, left, at the 2020 FIE Torino Foil Grand Prix. | Photo by J.D. Weintraub

Maia Weintraub is 18 and trying hard not to think about how much she’s already accomplished. One doesn’t get to the cusp of Olympic-level fencing by resting on her laurels, Weintraub explained, and one certainly wouldn’t make the team with such an attitude.

That’s the type of thinking that’s propelled her to the top of her sport, and spirited her around the world, bringing Weintraub everywhere from Junior Olympics matches in Memphis, Tennessee, to the FIE Junior World Cup in Zagreb, Croatia.

She still has an appreciation for how far she’s come.

female fencer
Maia Weintraub’s foil is tested at the European Maccabi Games. | Photo by J.D. Weintraub

“When I started fencing internationally, and was able to fence with the top competitors of other countries, that’s when I realized, like, ‘Oh, I can do this. I’ve made it,’” she said.

Weintraub was introduced to fencing by her father’s brothers, both of them fencers in their youth. What the sport has brought her, aside from a chance to play “physical chess,” as she calls it, is a slew of lifelong friends. The camaraderie she experienced at the European Maccabi Games in Budapest, Hungary, Weintraub said, where she and her teammates shared nothing in common besides fencing and their identity as Jews, is one of her fonder memories of competition.

So what have you been doing during this downtime? Have you been able to practice?
In the beginning of the shutdown my fencing clubs were closed, so I wasn’t able to actually go fence. With fencing, to be able to practice the sport, you need to be with other people, and you need to fence against other people — that’s how you get better. But because I wasn’t able to work on my fencing, I tried to focus mostly on endurance, weightlifting and stuff I could do by myself. The time to get ready and do that work was really helpful because I was able to prepare for the fencing season. Usually, the offseason is only a month or so, when I don’t have that much time to actually prepare.

What is it about fencing that appeals to you?
Fencing is very unique. I feel like it’s not one of those sports where you can just pick up a foil or weapon and just start. You have to dedicate yourself to learning the art of fencing before you can actually do it. And I think that dedicating that time and choosing to do it makes it special.

What have you learned about yourself through fencing?
I’ve learned that I am very much a procrastinator in a lot of aspects of my life [laughs]. Because I learned that early on, I was able to try to counteract that. So I have to make myself stick to a strict schedule of when I have to do my homework and schoolwork, and when I should work on my physical endurance, and when I should go to fencing practice. That’s something that will serve me well for the rest of my life, not just during fencing. So I’m grateful to the sport for opening my eyes to that.

Do you have an ultimate goal?
The highest goal in an Olympic sport is to go to the Olympics. And, of course, I want to do that, but to be able to reach that, I just have to focus on the small things. So if I focus on bettering myself, individually, I will eventually reach the long-term goal, without having to think about it that much and putting much pressure on myself.

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