When Ji Qi—known as Miracle—greets you at the door of her fencing club, you can see she is a happy person. And when she starts talking about her life in fencing, her passion for the sport shines through. Tall and slender, she looks every bit the athlete, and you know she’s where she belongs.
Many local women share Miracle’s enthusiasm for a particular sport. In all kinds of weather throughout the four seasons, you see women playing sports during their free time. Each of us chooses a sport for different reasons. Some of us thrive on competition and the big win. Others seek ways to bring more exercise into our lives. And there are those who look for fun and active ways to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals.
Let’s meet three Tidewater women and find out more about the unique sports they play—and why.
Miracle started fencing when she was 14. Prior to that, she played tennis, but when a relative who was an épée fencing champion introduced her to the sport, she gave it a try. She found that épée was too slow for her, and she literally dropped the sword and walked out.
But she got “pulled back” and was soon introduced to sabre fencing. “Wow! It was so awesome,” she said. “I loved the power moves and the speed of sabre.” At the time, girls were not really involved in sabre fencing because it was believed that females didn’t have the physical strength, Miracle explained. She proved them wrong.
Growing up in China, Miracle’s teen years were different from many others her age. When preparing for tournaments, she would get up at six o’clock each morning and run for one hour to warm up. This was followed by three and a half hours of fencing practice. In the evening there were another three and a half hours of practice. This went on six days a week during periods of competition training.
Miracle moved to the United States when she was 22 to start a better life. She became a fencing coach for two of the local clubs and for the fencing team at William and Mary College. Although she loved these jobs, she wanted to work more hours. With the encouragement of her William and Mary students and their parents, she opened Miracle Fencing Club in Yorktown in December 2016.
Fencing taught Miracle to have a lot of confidence and belief in herself. And she eagerly helps build those same characteristics in her students. “If you try really hard you can do it,” she tells them. “Just tell yourself ‘I can do it. I can beat them.’”
She also encourages her students not to compare themselves to others: “Compare yourself to your last time. Start every competition at zero and prove yourself every time.”
“It’s a really smart game. It’s physical, and it makes your body pretty because your muscles are always stretching.” Miracle said. “But it also trains your mind because it trains your judgment. Fencing teaches people how to focus, concentrate, and be brave.”
There are three forms of fencing: foil, épée, and sabre. Each uses a different type of sword and has different rules. References to fencing schools date back to the 12th century. However, the shift from using a sword as a weapon to a sport didn’t take place until the mid-18th century.
Although fencing was one of the first sports played in the Olympics, it wasn’t until 2004 that women’s sabre fencing became an Olympic competition.
Miracle has won a number of fencing championships herself on the local and national level, and she coached the William and Mary fencing club to win the 2015 Virginia Cup.
She likes to refer to sabre as a game. “I tell my students they must love and have passion to increase their skills quickly,” she said. “Then it will be more fun.”
MEETING NEW FRIENDS
One of the fastest growing sports in America is a combination of tennis, ping pong, and badminton that utilizes a paddle and wiffle ball and is played on a short court with a net. What is this craze that’s sweeping the nation? It’s pickleball. Local women are hopping on the pickleball bandwagon, and courts and leagues are popping up across the area.
Chris Bishop of Virginia Beach is passionate about pickleball. She began playing after an acquaintance told her that it was offered at the Great Neck Recreation Center, where she had recently become a member. “I was curious, so I decided to stop by and check it out,” said Chris.
A recent retiree, Chris wanted something that would fill her time and keep her active. “After giving it a try, I decided it was something I could do,” Carol said. “I was never very athletic, and this seemed like it wasn’t too difficult to learn. I was probably the worst player, but other players were willing to give me a chance. The group was friendly and welcoming.”
Pickleball attracts a wide range of players. It’s not as fast moving as some sports, which makes it a great game for everyone from young children through seniors. It originated in Bainbridge, Wash., in 1965. The story goes that it was named after one of the originator’s dog, Pickles, who ran after the ball while the game was played.
The sport is easy to learn, which is one thing that Chris wants to emphasize to others. “You’ll meet a lot of interesting and fun people, and you’ll make new friendships,” she added.
Pickleball has had a positive impact on Chris since she started playing. “It certainly has gotten me to be active,” she said. “Depending on my schedule, I may play a few times a week up to nearly every day…sometimes twice a day.” She also says she’s lost a few pounds and feels more energized.
The sport started locally in one recreational center in Virginia Beach and has now expanded to several locations throughout the area, according to Chris. Because pickleball times are offered at different hours and days at the various locations, avid players can enjoy the game every day. And there may be 15 to 20 waiting their turn to play.
Recreation centers often supply pickleball equipment, but Chris says if you play regularly, it’s a good idea to buy your own paddle. She also stresses the importance of good footwear and recommends court shoes.
Chris has been enjoying the sport for about five years, and now she’s the one to introduce it to others and teach them how to play. “The only problem is that after they play a few games, they usually beat me,” she said. “Both my son and grandson now play pickleball, and they both beat me.”
Chris suggests joining a league. There are teams for beginning, intermediate, and advanced players. “It really helps your game,” she said. She also plays in tournaments and the Virginia senior games, which allows her to improve her skills and meet people from all around the country. Her advice to everyone? “Give it a try!”
FUN & FITNESS
In a sport where only around eight percent of the players are women, Carol Quinn of Virginia Beach stands out as a champion. Her game and her passion is disc golf, and there are times when she plays six to seven days a week.
Although Carol has only been playing disc golf only about four years, she has already placed in the top five in multiple tournaments including taking first place in her first major competition in 2014.
What was once only a Frisbee-throwing sport rapidly grew into disc golf with the installation of the first official course in 1975 in Pasadena, Calif. Its growth has exploded in the last ten years, and courses are opening up everywhere. There are now more than 5,000 in the United States alone.
The game is played much like traditional ball golf, but rather than hitting a ball into a hole, players throw a disc similar to the original Frisbee into an elevated basket.
Carol said she knew about the sport 20 years ago, but she didn’t become interested in playing until she went to a tournament and watched it from the sidelines. Soon after she started, multiple people encouraged her to organize a ladies’ league, and in June 2015 Gathering Ladies on Wednesdays (GLOW) began at Bayville Disc Golf Course in Virginia Beach.
“We call it our happy hour because we are happy—playing and being outdoors,” said Carol. Women get together to have fun and meet others. They bring their kids, and they just have a good time, she explained. Juniors also participate in the GLOW league, and even the children are encouraged to throw if they want to.
Carol works hard to promote disc golf and introduce it to others. “I put in a lot of personal time to grow the sport,” she said. She is the director of six tournaments throughout Virginia. In addition to setting up the tournaments, she obtains sponsors to keep the entry fee low so more women can participate.
Because of her passion to introduce and grow the sport for women and children, she was selected to be an ambassador for Innova Disc Golf, the world’s leading manufacturer of disc golf equipment. She takes that responsibility seriously by encouraging people to discover a fun, new way to exercise while socializing with others.
“It’s a very addictive sport,” Carol said. “When you work all day, it’s nice to get out in nature and mingle with other women.” And it’s great for those looking for some physical activity since it involves walking, stretching, and bending. “But you don’t realize you’re exercising because you’re having so much fun.”
Unlike regular golf, disc golf is very inexpensive to play, and most courses are free. But like traditional golf, the same rules of etiquette apply. Additionally, disc golf is played on a course that is open, wooded, or both, and each throw is played from where the previous throw landed. There are special discs to use for various distances from the basket including driving, mid-range throwing, and putting. However, distances are measured in feet rather than in yards.
“The art of disc golf is being able to have great flight patterns,” Carol said. “It takes a lot of muscle memory. Like a pitcher, the more you practice, the better you get.” The sport can be very competitive for those who want that, she explained. But it can also be played purely for fun.
Carol encourages everyone to try disc golf. “Come out and mingle with other ladies,” she said. “It’s just fun, and it’s an age-friendly sport for everyone!”
• For more information about fencing, go to www.miraclefencingclub.com
• Check with your local parks and rec department to find out about pickleball games and leagues.
• Find out more about disc golf by searching G.L.O.W. League-Bayville Ladies Disc Golf on Facebook.
Peggy Hughes is a certified space clearing professional and life coach and the owner of Conscious Living Pathways. She offers her clients multiple ways to have better lives. For more information, visit her website at consciouslivingpathways.com.