On Friday, August 27, Paul Epply-Schmidt stood in the Centennial Olympiad Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia as a national champion. This was not the first time that Paul has qualified for the Veteran (over 60) Men’s Foil for the national title, but it is his first time at the top of the podium. “In 2014, I also qualified to compete for the national title. The championship was being held about two hours east of Budapest, and after only 24 hours in Budapest, I received a call about a family emergency in North Carolina. I never even got to the venue,” Paul recalls.
Paul has devoted 48 years to fencing after falling in love with the sport as a youngster in Texas thanks to lessons with a French foil military master who “helped set me on a course for life,” he says. Paul’s journey to the Veteran Men’s National Championship, however, was his first time on the piste after a five-year hiatus. Paul says, “After I wasn’t able to compete in 2014, I tried for another two years to qualify again, but after I was defeated in 2016, I felt all of the competitive drive completely drain from my body. I wasn’t sure it would ever return.” This year, Paul explains, the “passion for competing suddenly came back,” and he began to train again.
“I’d say the most important part of all of this for me was that the doubts I had would sometimes interfere, but I was able to master those doubts,” he says. After defeating the other competitors in a round-robin, Paul also engaged in four direct elimination bouts. Currently, he is in the number one spot for the Veterans World Championship U.S. Team.
Of course, having a Veteran Men’s National Champion teaching and coaching at PDS only adds to the stellar credentials of the School’s exceptional faculty as well as its strong roster of coaches. Paul, who has been working at PDS since 1989, has enjoyed sharing his talents not only as a swordsmith, but also as a wordsmith and an entertaining piano accompanist who has supported many student talent show performances. As he explains, “Along with coaching the Fencing team, I’ve taught Middle and Upper School French, and more recently, Middle School History and English. I’ve been teaching English for the last seven years, and it connects me to my love for words. I particularly enjoy making puns and parodies of songs.” PDS faculty and staff know of Paul’s love for words from his “Grammar Grouch” emails, which he shares periodically with colleagues.
While COVID-19 has left the scheduling of the World Championship in limbo, Paul is happy with whatever may come. “Fencing is a lifetime sport, and it really amazes me to see how I was competing in 1984 and 1988 to be on the U.S. Olympic team and I didn’t reach my goal—but I’m reaching those goals now.”