Blessing Olaode has shed her dubious nature when it comes to her fencing ability.
Temple's senior captain decided last summer to compete in the African Fencing Championship on her own, a proud moment for not only herself but also her coaches, who have watched her confidence evolve over the last four years.
"I think for us it was, we're just here to support you," Temple fencing assistant coach Josh Herring said. "We support them in all aspects of what they do in their fencing careers. If it's extra lessons she needs, bouting, we're always here and trying to help them accomplish their goals. We're going to do what we can and just be there as much as they need us."
Three years ago, Olaode returned to her native Nigeria after 10 years. While home, she attended a fencing club. She stayed in contact with the organizers, and they later asked her if she would be interested in competing internationally.
"I was like, yeah, that would be great, and that's how we got the ball rolling," Olaode said.
Olaode competed for Nigeria in Tunis, Tunisia last summer, leaving the meet ranked 75th in the world. Temple fencing head coach Nikki Franke said Olaode is very competitive and very athletic.
"When I met her, I didn't know she was as loud as she is when she fences," Herring said about Olaode's tenacious spirit while competing.
To compete in the annual world championship next year and Olympics in 2020, Olaode will need to qualify in the African zone. There are zones mapped out across the world that are made up of multiple factors, mainly the prominence of fencing in that region.
There are two ways she can qualify to compete for the African zone: as an auto qualifier (winning an international meet) or to be the highest ranking African fencer on the world points list. Her standing on the points list is based on an aggregate score from competitions. Currently, she ranks in the top five in her zone, so she says she will probably try to qualify for worlds through the points list because it's easier to see where she stands internationally.
"I think Blessing's biggest upside is she is very coachable. She works very, very hard. She's very, very focused. All of that will pay off, if not right now. … If she continues, it will really pay off," Franke said.
Olaode, a neuroscience major and Japanese minor, is looking forward to the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. She says while she was competing at the African Championships over the summer, her biggest challenge was that the referees spoke only in French. Next time, she hopes the language barrier will be less of an issue.
"I couldn't understand anything so I would say that was probably the biggest struggle for me," Olaode said.
Along with looking to her coaches for advice on the international stage, Olaode has relied on 2012 Temple fencing alum Kamali Thompson, who has provided guidance to Olaode for which meets where she should compete. Traveling and entering competitions is a hefty financial burden, so knowing what competitions she has the best shot of accumulating points is important.