Haverford School teacher Delia Turner is a fencing champ

Delia Turner, with her medal and saber, at the Haverford School.
Delia Turner, with her medal and saber, at the Haverford School. (Josh Fernandez/Philly.com)

After scraping ahead by one point in her final fight of the competition, Delia Turner won the gold medal in the 2011 60-70 year age group for the Women’s Saber at the World Fencing Championship.

Delia Turner, with her medal and saber, at the Haverford School. Gallery: Haverford School teacher Delia Turner is a fencing champ

Standing atop the podium on Sept. 30 in Porec, Croatia, excitement shook Turner.

“I wasn’t sure I had won,” said the 60-year-old fencer. “I kept checking the score, and then looking at the medal…I was shaking.”

This was not Turner’s first fencing victory. Since taking her first steps as a fencing athlete, Turner, who heads the English department at The Haverford School, where she’s taught for more than 17 years, has taken numerous national gold and silver medals (see an Inquirer profile from 2002). She's lost track of how many total competitions she's won, but the recent win marks her third international gold medal, along with five silver medals in the saber competitions.

“Her championship was not a big surprise to me because she’s good,” said Mark Masters, who has been Turner’s primary fencing coach for more than 15 years. “She enjoys the sport very much, especially when it comes to the challenge of a tough opponent.”

Turner herself was afraid an injury last month would have cost her the competition. While practicing in the United States, the tip of an opponent’s saber went into Turner’s palm and up her wrist two inches.

“It was scary, and I went to the [emergency room] immediately,” she said. “It turned out that it wasn’t too bad an injury.”

The glove Turner wore when she got the injury is tacked onto her bulletin board, with a dark-red stain encircling the spot where the saber tip’s hole is located. “It grosses out my sixth graders, but they’re impressed,” she said.

Turner began fencing 17 years ago after taking her then-fourth grade daughter, Jessica Lewis-Turner, to fencing practice and competitions.

“I guess I wasn’t a very great sports-watching mom,” she said.

Soon after, Turner picked up her first blade, the foil, which is designed exclusively for thrusting. The other two types of blades in fencing for which they are divisions and separate rules are the épée and saber.

“I wasn’t very good with [the foil],” Turner laughed. “I then switched to the saber, and it’s been great because the personality for saber [users] suits me.”

“We tend to scream a lot,” she added.

From that point, Turner trained with Masters, practicing her foot patterns for up to an hour and a half, learning and improving her fencing skills, and doing strength training and aerobic workouts.

After winning several national competitions, Turner won the gold medal for the Veteran Women’s World Championship in Tampa, Fla.. in 2003. 

“It’s bloody hell on the legs,” Turner said of her first foray into fencing. “I had a hard time walking the stairs for a bit. The on-guard stance is very demanding.”

“You can’t just pick it up right away, even if you’re a little athletic because it takes time to learn,” she added.

Masters attributed Turner’s success to her positive attitude and her persistence for fitness.

“[Delia] is constantly working out and always willing to improve her technique,” he said. “It’s not about athletic ability; it’s about strategy and the willingness to refine timing and technique.”

“She’s easily able to beat opponents just a fraction of her age, such as 25-year-old males, with no problem,” Masters added.

That’s why Turner said she is particularly fond of fencing as a sport: in addition to being able to compete in mixed competitions and veterans' competitions, she is easily able to compete with those who are younger than her.

“I think more adults ought to try fencing,” Turner said. “It challenges you, and it’s special in that it’s a rare sport that rewards craftiness in competition, especially when you are up against an opponent who could easily beat you in another sport based [only on physical ability].”

“Besides, it’s better exercise and more fun than golf,” she added.