NJ Resident Qualifies for Olympic Fencing Team Again

By Michael Hill

Dagmara Wozniak of Avenel just qualified again for Team USA Fencing and is Brazil-bound for a bounty of gold.

“It’s gold all around,” she said.

Wozniak represented the U.S. in the 2012 London games.

“It’s an amazing journey. Every time was a completely different qualifying process than in 2012, so I feel like making it for the first time,” Wozniak said. “It’s exciting. It’s a new country. There’s a lot of new people on the team. It’s just an amazing experience altogether.”

Wozniak joins fellow New Jerseyan Ibtihaj Muhammad of Maplewood on the fencing team for the Rio games.

She began fencing at the age of 9. She’s a native of Poland. Her family emigrated to America 27 years ago when she was just a year old.

“My parents came here for the American dream and I got it,” said Wozniak.

Fencing seems like the natural sport for Wozniak to earn championships and medals when you consider what she did as a child.

“My father got me involved. He saw that I was a very active child. There was a local fencing club/Polish cultural community center near our house so we thought, ‘Hey two birds with one stone. … She can get all her energy out’ because I was playing dodge ball, fighting people in the street,” she said. “I was kind of a little boy back then and I was always like, hey girls can fight. I was definitely not afraid to show the boys that I could take a hit.”

From self-described bully to bold champion, collecting silver, bronze and gold in international competitions like last year’s Pan American Games.

Wozniak says she meditates to get in to the zone before a competition to focus on the moment, her warm-up and her equipment.

“There’s been a couple times where I try to have a playlist, but then I forget my iPod. I lose it. I try not to do too many things that will make me throw myself off,” Wozniak said.

She’s a southpaw in what’s considered the fastest combat sport in the world. Fencers typically score points when their blade contacts an opponent above the waist, when they block an attack or chase the opponent off the strip. The first one to 15 points wins.

“Everyone describes fencing as a physical chess game, so you want to outsmart your opponent. You want to set up traps. Then when you do that, it’s an amazing feeling. When you check that person, it’s like, ‘Yes, got you!'”

Hall of Fame Coach Yury Gelman trains Wozniak. He coached her at St. John’s University and owns the Manhattan Fencing Center.

“She works so hard for what she achieves. She may not be as talented as other people, but her work is clearly amazing. She’s ready to work 24 hours a day,” said Gelman.

Wozniak says getting ready for the international stage has been a family affair.

“I didn’t really make a lot of friends in high school. For me it was a driving force from the beginning to be as good as I can be in the sport. A lot of determination. A lot of different small drills at home with my mom. She would make me sprint from one car to the next. It was a family effort for sure,” she said.

Wozniak says she’s just trying to make her parents proud. Turns out she’s doing the same for the Garden State.