The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Professor Julian Tyson ranked number ten over-age-70 fencer in the world

tyson on the mat
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From October 5 to October 11, UMass Commonwealth Honors College’s emeritus professor of chemistry, Julian Tyson, participated in the World Veterans Fencing Championship 2019 in Cairo, Egypt.

In what was his third appearance in the competition, Professor Tyson placed 12th in the Vet70 men’s foil bracket, and 10th in the men’s épée event. Épée and foil are two variations of fencing, involving different swords and rules. Foil uses a lighter sword, only scoring points with hits within the torso. Épée uses a heavier sword but allows points to be scored with hits anywhere on the body.

“It’s an official world ranking,” Tyson said. “I can tell people if they ask that I’m now ranked number 10 in the world. But, of course, it’s fencers over the age of 70.”

Raised in the United Kingdom, Tyson’s fencing interest was sparked by his father. At age 11, he was gifted fencing lessons for Christmas by his parents, forever hooking Tyson to the sport. Growing up running, “throwing things,” and swimming, Tyson said his early athleticism made the quick adjustment to fencing seem natural.

“Like anything, if you’re successful, it’s a positive feedback loop,” Tyson said. “By the age of 16, I was one of the better fencers in the county and was selected for the county team. I enjoyed it; I was ambitious to become the best that I could.”

By the end of his senior year of college, Tyson had earned a spot on the Scottish National Team and held that position for ten years. Though named a Scottish national champion on multiple occasions, Tyson, however, fell short of his ultimate goal of qualifying for the 1984 Olympics, resulting in his taking a break from the competitive side of the sport to focus on raising his family and developing his chemistry career.

Fencing became a hobby for Tyson, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 40, and he'd found it hard at first to find fencing opportunities near UMass Amherst. Around this time, the International Fencing Federation introduced veteran-level fencing competitions, driving Tyson back into the sport.

“Instead of having to compete in open competitions with youngsters, I could now compete in competitions that had an age limit,” said Tyson. “I gradually got back into fencing as a 40-year-old.”

By the time he turned 50, the International Fencing Federation had introduced the World Veteran Championship, suddenly sparking the idea that he could compete internationally again if he made the United States team. He qualified for one of four spots on the U.S. National Team in his 50s.

“Fairly early in my 50s, I qualified for the épée team and went to the World Championship, [but] got my butt kicked and came in 16th,” said Tyson. “As I approached the age of 60, I kind of ramped it up and qualified for the U.S. team in épée again, went to the World Championships, got my butt kicked, and came in 16th again.”

Despite not doing as well as he could during his first two opportunities in the World Championships, Tyson stuck with the sport, allowing him to rank better this time around. He continues to practice at Riverside Fencing Club in Hadley, Mass.