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Meredith Holt, Published November 29 2012

En garde! Deafness no barrier to Fargo senior’s fencing hobby

FARGO - Troy and Shawnda Mickelson started learning American Sign Language soon after they discovered their firstborn was profoundly deaf.

“We were teaching Taylor signs at 3, and at 3½ she was teaching us signs,” Troy says of his daughter’s quick progress.

But when Taylor joined the Fargo-Moorhead Fencing Club’s All-School Program last fall, both father and daughter had to learn new signs.

In fact, they made up some of their own.

“They developed a whole new vocabulary for fencing,” says coach Enrique Alvarez, one of two nationally ranked fencers who teach the club’s 30 to 35 members.

Three times a week, Taylor and Troy can be spotted fencing and signing at Fargo’s Grace Lutheran School with the club’s All-School Program for 12- to 18-year-olds.

Though Troy attends Taylor’s practice sessions to translate instructions for her, coach Enrique has learned some ASL, too, to help build their coach-student relationship.

“It was a challenge for me, too, because I knew it would be a challenge for her,” he says.

In February, Taylor will be one of three girls on a team of 18 to compete in the Minnesota High School Fencing League State Championships in Hopkins.

“I think competing in the Cities will be exciting,” Taylor writes in an email. “It’s a first for our club.”

Troy says his competitive 17-year-old “reads” people well, which may give her an advantage in the sport.

“She’s very visual, and she picks up on a lot of cues that other people wouldn’t see, and I think that’s why she likes fencing,” he says.

Coach Enrique, the head foil coach, says the Fargo North senior has been progressing since the day she started.

“She’s very excited every time she comes to class, and Troy has been a great asset for the club, too, not only helping Taylor, but helping the club,” he says.

Through her father’s translation at a recent practice, Taylor says she likes how Alvarez challenges his students and that he has high expectations for her.

“Enrique is a really good coach and likes to push the kids,” she says.

Taylor plans to continue fencing after graduation. She wrote about wanting to start a college fencing club in her admission essay to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

“There are a lot of private clubs in the area, but no school club,” she says.

When the Mickelson family visited Gallaudet, the world’s only university with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Taylor was in awe.

“She was just taking it all in,” Troy says.

Troy, however, was a little lost.

“Everyone on campus knows fluent sign language, so when we visited, Taylor asked, ‘Do you want a hearing interpreter?’ and I said, ‘Yes, yes I do!’ ” he says with a laugh.

Although Taylor does well in school and participates in other extracurricular activities, fencing has given her added confidence.

“Being deaf’s no problem – you can do anything. It doesn’t prevent me from trying anything. If I can fence, I can do anything,” she says.

How to help

The nonprofit Fargo-Moorhead Fencing Club is seeking donations to purchase warm-up uniforms and help cover travel expenses for the 18-member high school team competing at the Minnesota State Championships in February.

• Donate online at www.fmfencing.com. Click on the “Donate” button on the left side of the home page.

• Donations can also be mailed to Fargo-Moorhead Fencing Club, 4807 Woodhaven Drive S., Fargo, ND 58104.


To learn more about deafness and American Sign Language, visit:

• The National Association of the Deaf at www.nad.org;

• American Sign Language University at www.lifeprint.com; or ASLPro at www.aslpro.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590