Ketki Ketkar, a 16-year-old Skyline High School student, won bronze at the 2021 Junior & Cadet World Fencing Championships in Cairo, Egypt. She was one of three girls chosen to represent the U.S. in the competition, which ran from April 3 to 11.
She was informed of her tournament selection only a couple weeks prior to the event via email from USA Fencing.
“When I read it, I was super excited because it’s my first World Championship and I was excited to get that experience and generally to travel since we haven’t been anywhere in a while,” Ketkar said.
A fencer of seven years, Ketkar trained every morning and afternoon with her twin sister, Mallika, through Kaizen Academy in Redmond.
Because of COVID-19, there were no prior competitions or tournaments for Ketkar to compete in to better prepare before the World Championships. To get up to speed for the event, Ketkar trained with her sister at home and participated in mini local tournaments at their club.
Yasser Eldarawani, Ketkar’s coach and a 2004 Olympian, tried his best to prepare Ketkar while getting creative in adopting COVID-19 safety precautions. They trained outside of Kaizen Academy on mats, and propped up a tent when it rained.
“I tried to make the most out of the training so she can be ready more for the tournament…physically, mentally, and everything. She was ready,” Eldarawani said.
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Ketkar was only able to travel to Cairo with her mom and coach. But that did not prevent her sister, family, and fellow fencers at Kaizen Academy from supporting her at home.
“We were watching it at 3:00 a.m. because that was the time it was for us,” Kevin Mar, another coach at Kaizen Academy, said. “This was only her second international tournament ever.”
Despite being the underdog for much of the tournament, Ketkar exceeded expectations. She easily won her first round 15-0 and the second round 15-3 to win bronze in the Cadet Women’s Épée, a thrusting weapon and the heaviest of the three weapons used in fencing.
“When I got the medal, it was really exciting because all of the people there were just really good fencers, so to get a medal was super exciting,” Ketkar said.
All competition athletes were restricted to a bubble, only traveling from the hotel to the event venue for competition, to limit the possible spread of COVID-19. However, that did not prevent Ketkar from talking with the other medalists and meeting competitors from other countries.
Ketkar attributes her success to her twin sister, Mallika, who is also a nationally-ranked fencer but did not compete at the World Championships. Ketkar explains that through consistent training, her sister keeps her motivated and pushes her to further improve her skills.
Mar, who has watched the sisters develop their fencing skills together, stresses the importance of having a community of fencers to support you.
I wanted everyone to realize that whether you train day in and day out or you just encouraged [others] or you were just there [at Kaizen], you are a part of the [Kaizen] family,” Mar said. “You are a part of the tribe.”