Parker Williams knew something wasn’t right.
In the second-to-last team bout in Saturday’s ACC Fencing Championships — which were reinstated after a 34-year layoff — the North Carolina fencer awkwardly planted his foot on the end of the fencing strip.
“I was actually trying not to step on the edge because I thought it might roll,” Williams said. “I just misstepped.”
The result was a sprained left ankle, forcing the tournament’s top-seeded epee fencer to question whether he would be able to compete in the individual events.
“Regionals is coming up so I knew I had to be healthy for that,” Williams said. “I was weighing my options. I didn’t know.”
But after getting the nod from trainers, the senior pushed through the pain.
“I fenced all 15 bouts sprained,” said Williams, who finished 7-8 in individual competition. “In the beginning it was hard. I had to develop a new style that worked with it, but then I had a hot streak of about five bouts that I won.
“I surprised myself, to be honest.”
Yet nobody was surprised that Williams — captain of the epee squad — limped across the aisles of Carmichael Arena, intent on cheering for his teammates.
And when fellow epee fencer Matt Shlimak suffered a disheartening defeat in the semifinals, Williams — with ice strapped to his ankle — hobbled down onto the floor to console him.
“It wasn’t the easiest, but I knew he needed to hear something,” Williams said of his freshman teammate. “He’s young, he’s still figuring things out. I wanted to just give him some inspiration to try to push through the last bout.”
To add injury to insult, Shlimak fell victim to a severe leg cramp in the final consolation bout, forcing him to take an extended medical timeout.
“My lower right thigh cramped up real hard and I couldn’t put any weight on it,” said Shlimak, who went on to lose by four touches. “My legs just felt like stone.”
While Shlimak — who also dealt with a right hand cramp — says a lack of electrolytes was to blame, the length of the tournament surely didn’t help.
“It was the longest day of fencing I have ever fenced,” said sophomore Amanda Lalezarian. “I’ve been fencing 10 years and I’ve never fenced this many bouts in a day.”
Even senior Gill Litynski — who won the inaugural women’s tournament for sabre on Sunday — battled through physical ailments.
Just a few touches into her championship bout, Litynksi hit toe-to-toe with her opponent, forcing her to shake off the pain before continuing.
“Anything can happen, and you just need to accept it,” she said. “I was hurting, but you just have to say, ‘Alright, that happened, that’s done. What can I do next?’”
Williams’ next step in recovering his sprained ankle begins today, as he starts a rehab regimen with the hopes of being ready for regional competition.
“I’m going to go in everyday for the next two weeks up until the tournament,” he said. “They’re going to get me on an ankle brace, some prescription strength or whatever just to reduce the swelling."
But Williams is very confident he’ll compete in the regional tournament — much to the relief of Coach Ron Miller.
“He should be ready for regionals, so that’ll be good,” Miller said. “Because we would have a hard time replacing him.”
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