UNION COUNTY, NJ — Lola Possick, a 15-year-old Garwood Advance Fencing & Fitness Academy student-athlete and USA Fencing All-Academic and All-American First Team fencer who currently ranks No. 1 in the world for U17 fencing, was recently selected for the U17 U.S. national team for women’s saber.
Along with her coach, AFFA founder Aleks Ochocki, himself a multiple-time national champion and former U.S. national team member who also works with the U.S. Olympic team, Possick will fly to Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday, April 4, where she will compete on the international stage after a long hiatus due to the pandemic.
“I will be coaching Lola at the world championships and am very excited for her,” Ochocki said. For each country, Ochocki continued, “only three athletes per weapon — saber, epee, foil — earn a spot, so it is extremely prestigious. She has worked so hard for so long and always had her sights set on this.”
Possick, who attends Kent Place School in Summit, has lived in Weehawken for her entire life with her parents and older brother.
“I first got into fencing because of my older brother, Owen, and started going consistently to a club when I was 7 years old,” she said on Friday, March 26. “I remember, when he first started, I would watch his practices and, after watching him train, I decided I wanted to start, too. I definitely haven’t mastered my sport yet, but this is my ninth year of fencing, and I feel I have improved steadily each year, thanks to my coaches and supportive family.”
The teenage fencing phenom has dominated the sport, becoming a four-time national champion, winning an international World Cup in Austria in 2019 and earning a bronze medal at the Junior Olympics for the U20 category.
Ochocki grew up in Clark and said he was the only fencer in town. He also played football and lacrosse in middle school and high school, but when he was introduced to fencing at the Polish Cultural Foundation, where they offer a free Saturday class, he fell in love with it.
“I’ve been lucky to have some of the best coaches in the world. My first coach is arguably the best youth coach in the country, and my personal coach is a six-time Olympic coach, as well as my college coach being a former Olympic coach,” said Ochocki on Friday, March 26.
“I’ve been able to win six U.S. national championships, as well as four NCAA championships at Penn State,” he continued. “I’ve been a member of the U.S. national team on all levels, U17, U20 and senior, winning a bronze medal at the world championships, gold at the Pan American championships and ending my competitive career ranked 24th in the world.”
Possick said her larger-than-life dream of someday participating in the Olympics helped motivate her to work toward short- and long-term goals. She said she looked up to Olympic-level fencers, such as Mariel Zagunis, but was also motivated by the idea of improvement and becoming the best that she can be.
“It is rewarding to know that my nine years of training and dedication to my sport are showing, but I still have a lot to work on in order to maintain my ranking and improve in my sport,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made competing more difficult, but Possick has not let it get her down. She said she has been very fortunate that AFFA has been open for in-person training since June.
“Advance Fencing & Fitness Academy is one of the country’s premier fencing clubs for saber,” Ochocki said. “It was founded in 2013, when I was asked by my town’s recreation director if I was interested in running an after-school program. After a big turnout and seeing all the talented kids, I knew there was a lot of potential.
Additionally, there weren’t many high-level fencing clubs in New Jersey, and most athletes traveled to New York City for training. I wanted to use all my knowledge and experience to help the kids in my community find their passion and allow them to get some amazing opportunities the sport has to offer.
“This is not the first time we’ve seen such success, but, currently, Lola does have the most individual U.S. national championships in the club with four,” he continued. “We’ve had other members, such as Martha Merriam and Zara Moss, be selected for national teams and win bronze and silver medals at the world championships. We’ve had numerous athletes represent the United States on the international stage and even win medals, as well as over 35 athletes that have won medals in national competitions.”
Ochocki said he thinks it’s a testament to all the hard work they’ve put in. He said they have a great coaching staff that takes an individualized approach to each athlete to maximize their potential. The older athletes serve as mentors for the next generations. The younger children get a chance to practice and learn from older, successful athletes and challenge themselves to get to that level. It’s a continuous cycle. They spar together, do drills, footwork and conditioning, pushing one another.
Possick said she is laser focused on competing in the world championships in Egypt.
“My family and I are excited to have the opportunity to travel to Egypt, and I am most looking forward to seeing the venue and stadium since this will be the biggest competition I have fenced in,” Possick said. “Since I have been practicing this entire pandemic, I hope that the work I have put in is shown in my result, and I am also looking forward to the experience of being at a world championship, since competing in this tournament has been a dream of mine for the last few years.”
Ochocki recalled the days when he first began coaching Possick and reflected on her growth and his pride in her. He said he sees himself in Possick.
“Lola joined our club five years ago, and, from the beginning, it was clear she had what it took to be a champion,” Ochocki said. “Her successes come as no surprise, because of her hard work and dedication. She is not only a great athlete, but a great student, which helps her on the strip. So much of fencing is mental — analyzing and anticipating your opponent’s next moves, which Lola does such a great job of. Due to her success at such a young age, there could be added pressure, but she has been able to continue to perform and not let it get to her.
We are all so proud of her accomplishments and love that she is such a great teammate. She remains humble and never stops working.
“I thought, as an athlete, I worked hard,” he added, “but Lola really makes me question that, with all her dedication and sacrifices to be the best.”