Chris Herrod

A Utah legislator has developed a knack for dueling outside of the political arena.

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, recently placed in the finals of all three weapon categories at the U.S. Fencing Association's national tournament. In two of the three categories for the 40-49-year-old division — epee and sabre — he placed third, and in the foil division he placed eighth.

The only downside to his success was that the third-place finish in the epee category actually knocked him out of the No. 1 ranking. He is now No. 2 in the nation.

Still, the loss of the top ranking in his preferred category did not bother Herrod, who "will fence anyone with whatever weapon they want to use." Instead, he is pleased that he was able to be successful in multiple categories, a feat not often accomplished by fencers.

Herrod, who was appointed to the Legislature right before this year's general session started, did not start fencing until 1996. At the time, he was teaching business classes in an exchange program for Utah Valley State College in Kiev, Ukraine. He met his wife in Kiev four years earlier, during a different teaching stint and began taking fencing lessons from his wife's sister to help her earn extra money.

Since the sister was the No. 2-ranked female epee fencer in the world at the time, Herrod quickly developed his skills.

"I was taking lessons from a world-class fencer, and I was training with the Ukrainian women's national team," he said.

When he returned to Provo, Herrod discovered that while fencing was surprisingly popular, epee was not widely practiced. So he began to learn the other weapons and worked to develop a more competitive epee program locally.

"It was hard to find somebody to fence epee, so that's why I learned the foil and sabre," he said.

His national success did not come until last year, however, when he was able to start entering the veterans division for 40-49-year-olds. Before that, he was "stuck in the no-man's land" of competitive fencing, because he was in his late 30s and having to compete against fencers many years younger.

His love of fencing, even if it came late, evolves from the physical and mental challenges of the sport. After a fencing match, he feels as if he just finished playing basketball and chess at the same time.

"It's considered physical chess," he said. "When you finish, your body and mind are aching."

Luckily for him, the sport has become a family affair. Aside from his wife's connection to the sport, his children have become fencers, although he refuses to push them toward goals they are not comfortable with pursuing.

"They are also into soccer and other sports," he said. "I don't push them with fencing. I don't want to try to live my Olympic dreams through my kids."


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com