Growing up from a family of lawyers, North Carolina women's fencer Sydney Persing was raised to be a go-getter.
From a very early age, both Persing and her twin brother learned the value of assertiveness, thanks in part to the creative way that their parents made them settle disputes.
“We would have family court,” Persing said of the cases that started when she was 6 years old, which ranged from squabbling over the television remote to finding out who broke a vase.
“My brother and I would have to present arguments with detailed evidence to back up our claims as to why our argument should win,” Persing said. “Then one of us would win the case depending on who did a better job presenting their argument.”
With their parents operating as the judge and jury, Persing was implanted with the very skill set that would later become essential to her future careers — fencing and journalism.
“I feel like that does instill a sense of confidence in you when you’re younger,” Persing said. “I always really appreciated that.”
Each argument, each deposition, each family court case pushed her to who she is today — a tenacious fencer, a confident journalist, a self-described go getter.
“That more than anything probably molded the kind of fencer I am and journalist I hope to be,” Persing said.
Started from the bottom
When 14-year-old Persing got into fencing, it was by accident.
First-year high school students at Newark Academy were required to participate in one sport, and she couldn’t decide between swimming and fencing. In the end, one distinct variable tipped the balance.
“I had a crush on the captain of the fencing team,” Persing said. “So I was like ‘OK, maybe I’ll just lean toward that one.’”
Once she started practicing, her love for the sport outweighed the high school crush — even through the growing pains of being a rookie fencer.
“I was absolute garbage,” Persing said.
But that all started to change when her high school coach, Ivanka Lucchetti, introduced the new fencer to her husband, Marcos Lucchetti, a former Olympic fencer and well-respected coach in the sport.
After briefly watching Persing fence, Marcos Lucchetti was intrigued.
“He was like, ‘You’re pretty weird (with your fencing stance); you’re not good, but I think I can make you a superstar,'” Persing said. “‘If you give me now until your senior year of high school, you’ll be able to attend any college that you want.’”
So Lucchetti and his new protege immediately got to work and practiced for the next three and a half years to improve her skills.
Persing’s hard work paid off by the time her senior year rolled around. During the recruiting process, she received serious interest from a handful of fencing programs, including several ACC schools.
“She took to the sport rather quickly and had the opportunity to take it to the next level,” her mother, Hope Cone Persing said. “I think what happened over time is she started to progress, so it was fun for me as a parent to see her confidence grow and her skill level grow.”
But there was only one place that Persing wanted to spend her four years of college.
“(North) Carolina was always my top choice,” Persing said.
Persing loved UNC for its School of Media and Journalism and its fencing program. She liked the college town feel, but head coach Ron Miller didn't show any initial interest until her senior year.
Because of her intention of going to UNC, she turned away interest from other schools, holding out hope her dream might come true. She was kept waiting until halfway through that year, when she met with Miller at a tournament in Salt Lake City.
“I’ll never forget the plane ride home,” Cone Persing said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her want something so much.”
Less than a week later, Zach Persing was in the hallway after a fencing meet when he heard his sister scream.
“It did not sound like a good scream,” he said. “I thought someone was having a heart attack or something.”
Instead, when he re-entered the gym, it was a celebration. Miller called, and Sydney Persing was a Tar Heel.
“That was the best day of my life,” Sydney said. “It’s a moment that I’ll never forget.”
When Persing arrived in Chapel Hill she was far from the best fencer on the team.
“She was a good fencer, but she wasn’t the top of the heap when it comes to competitive results,” Miller said. “So what I really thought was that I was willing to gamble, and I haven’t been wrong. Every once in a while you get lucky.”
Miller was lucky in that he’d found his future women’s foil captain. She also clinched a critical bout against Duke after being down 3-0 en route to her team’s first ACC Championship.
Now, it’s four years later and her athletic career is swiftly drawing to a close, which means it’s time for Persing to think about what’s next.
“The center of my life right now is that balance between journalism and fencing, and trying to make that transition,” Persing said.
A reporter’s life
Just like she had with fencing, Persing stumbled into her future career as a local TV news reporter about six months ago.
Prior to that, Persing had planned to pursue a journalism career in New York City after graduation. Since she worked with the Fox News Network for the past three summers, this seemed like the appropriate next step for her, but things changed.
This revelation occurred around the time last year when Persing took an audio journalism class. After being assigned to pursue newsworthy stories on a weekly basis, Persing stopped and thought to herself — “What am I doing?”
“For those stories, we would go out and we would just talk to people,” Persing said. “Getting away from a computer and from a journalism school to go out, talk to people, ask them questions, hear their stories, challenge them and thank them. It was just so special to me.”
“So this summer, I realized that I needed to make a big pivot.”
Persing had to start from scratch, learning a new craft for the first time since picking up fencing in high school seven years ago.
“I had never been on television; I had never done a live shot, and I had never done a package before until September,” Persing said. “So I feel like I just have been having to play catch up so much.”
It was all eerily familiar. This time, instead of holding a foil weapon, she’ll be holding a microphone.
Considering the fact that she’s trying to compete with other up-and-coming journalists who have been working on their reporter reels for the last three or four years (compared to five or six months in Persing’s case), she’s kept up with the competition once again.
Persing has put the same energy from fencing into journalism, working for multiple on-campus publications including Carolina Political Review, Sports Xtra and Carolina Week.
“She is the type of leader that we strive to find,” Miller said. “It’s rare that Sydney is ever down or in a situation where she says ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t’ or ‘I give up.’ That’s not a part of her vocabulary.”
Persing credits coming from a legal background on why she can “think critically,” and not be “afraid to push people and ask questions,” or play “a devil’s advocate.” Those skills have translated well to highly profiled interviews with Fox News political commentator Tucker Carlson and former Gov. Pat McCrory.
“If you want to be interviewing people like that in 20 years as a national journalist, and you have the opportunity to try to get opportunities like that now to learn, you better take them,” Persing said. “I think that throwing yourself into the deep end like that, even if it’s just for a couple of questions, builds confidence like no other.”
As Persing continues to balance the juggling act of finishing her fencing career on a high note and building her upcoming reporting career, these next few months won’t be easy.
But once the season ends in March, this will be around the time when she will send her final reel to news networks throughout the country, and then it will be the start of a new beginning.
“I’m going to have to really mourn the loss of fencing, but now it’s time for me to put my energy into something else,” Persing said.
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