The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 13, 2004


For these Carlisle fencers, it's all in the family

First it was Eva, age 17, then Erica, 12, and finally their mom Robin, 41. I'm talking about Eva Jellison, Erica Pernice and Robin Pernice of Judy Farm Road, big-time sabre fencers on the high school, college and national scene. I spoke with them not long ago in the home they are renting on Curve Street while their house on Judy Farm Road is being rebuilt following a devastating fire a year ago.

Robin Pernice had placed first in the Women's Veteran over-40 sabre division of the Summer National Championships in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier this summer. Eva's reputation as a top CCHS fencer has been reported in recent CCHS sports roundups appearing in this newspaper. Erica, who will be a seventh grader in the Carlisle School in the fall, started fencing at the high school last year while still in sixth grade, winning a New England Championship in the Youth-12-and-Under sabre.

It started with Eva

"It was Eva who, in fourth grade, was the first in the family to start taking fencing lessons from David Blake in a class sponsored by the Carlisle Recreation Program," explained Robin. Blake, who grew up in Carlisle, is the fencing coach at CCHS. Back in the '80s, he was a member of the school fencing team. Eva started out learning to use the foil, a fencing sword with a flat guard for the hand and a thin four-sided blade tipped with a blunt point to prevent injury. In a contest the tip of the blade has to hit a target on the opponent's torso. As Eva progressed in the sport Blake suggested she take up the sabre. The sabre has a tapered flexible blade. A fencer can strike with the side or the point of the blade and must hit the opponent above the waist. The epee, on the other hand, has a long triangular blade that has no cutting edge and tapers to a blunted point. It can strike anyplace on the body using the tip. Until 1999, foil and epee were the only allowed weapons for women. In 1999, sabre became an official NCAA woman's sport.

Getting a jump on sabre

As Eva explains it, she got a real jump on the sabre by learning the technique, which has different rules and different equipment, before the sabre was accepted as a woman's sport. It takes a certain personality type to use it — more aggressive and impatient is how Blake describes it. With the epee or the foil, matches are much more slowly paced. With the sabre, strategy must be decided in a split second.

Eva, who will be a senior in the fall, teaches sabre at CCHS. She is ranked 11th in the 20-and-under in the U.S., 51st in the World and a winner in the Massachusetts High School Championship. She has fenced internationally in Italy, Poland and Spain. Along with her mother and sister, she trains at the Prise de Fer Fencing Club, Inc., which has been located in Bedford but is moving in September to the Faulkner Mill in North Billerica. They receive instructions from Blake and Ariana Klinkov. When fencing for CCHS, the only public school in Massachusetts to have a fencing team, she competes against high schools on Long Island, New York and in Connecticut plus Harvard and Boston University JV teams.

Mother takes up the sport

Robin Pernice's introduction to fencing was by way of attending her daughters' matches and visits to the fencing club where they were training. "I was 38 1/2 years old and Ariana of Prise De Fer said if I started I could win in the Veteran Women's Sabre National Championship. Asked about her past participation in sports, Robin, a trained physical therapist, explained that she had grown up in the Boston area where she had participated in volleyball and track. "In track, I was a sprinter. I did the high jump and the shot put. The shot put was my favorite," she laughs. Nowadays, on sabre, Robin fences in veterans', as well as in open tournaments where "I can beat kids in college." Robin says Eva coaches her while she fences. "In the March New England Division Open Championship in which Eva didn't fence, I beat everyone half my age. If Eva had competed she would have killed me," admits Robin.

"Fencing is our whole life," continues Robin. " Children are the first to fence, then the parents take it up. You don't have to be a super athlete to compete. In how many sports can a mother compete against a daughter on a level playing field? I never thought at my age I could start a new sport."

Robin and her girls will continue to travel outside New England to train in Atlanta with an Olympic fencing coach and to a camp in New York to work with the Men's Olympic Sabre coach. There are also plans to travel to England and Europe. This weekend, the family will watch the Olympics in Athens, where for the first time woman's sabre will be televised.

Before I leave I have one last question. What about the father in the family? Bob Pernice is a musician who plays guitar with the Pernice Brothers, an alternative rock band. He is not a fencer but I am assured he takes great pride in the women in his family who are.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito