At the age of 11 Monika Sozanska came with her family from Poland to Germany. In a foreign country fencing helped her to find her way. Today the 35-year-old is one of the best épée fencers in Germany and part of the national team. The sport is more than a profession for Monika – it is her great passion.
Sportsfriends 2018: Interview with Monika
Women’s Health: Can you describe what is the fascinating thing about fencing for you?
Monika: It is the aesthetics, elegance, and the mental aspect. Concentration, courage and creativity are required. It’s not just about physical fitness or a good technical education – what’s important is the head, or what’s going on in it. The sport can be so complicated and then again so simple. No duel is like the other, it never gets boring.
Did you play any other sports before fencing?
Yeah, but not for long. I went to the ballet and then I danced a bit afterwards. Then finally came fencing.
You came to Germany from Poland when you were 11. What was it like to suddenly live in a foreign country?
When I came to Germany, I was a very shy girl. And I was new here and didn’t know the language. For a child leaving home, grandpa and grandma, best friends and familiar surroundings, it was a big change.
Contact sport fencing © Stephan Wieser
How did fencing help you back then?
My parents hoped that I could make contact with German children through sport. My father is a fencing coach and persuaded me to join the children’s group. I could get out of myself and let off steam while fencing. I made many friends through fencing and it was my main occupation besides school.
You’re right about sports.
This is exactly what I have experienced again and again in my career, getting to know people and their stories. Integration through sport is one of the best methods and I would recommend it to everyone. It brings together a group who share an interest in a sport. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what country you come from or what language you speak. When you do something together, it is the beginning of integration.
The relationship with your father is special because he was and is also your coach.
He definitely made me who I am today. I’m very grateful to him for that. Besides, I spend a lot of time with him, which otherwise would not be possible to this extent. Of course it was not always easy, for example during my puberty. And also, when he was the national coach for 8 years, I always had to prove myself twice for the national team to take the wind out of the sails of “slander”. I have achieved a great deal, which would not have been possible without him.
I have also been able to share my greatest success – the 2012 Olympic Games in London – with him, which is something incredibly beautiful.
Follow Monika on Instagram Monika lived her dream: In London 2012 she was on the Olympic team. © Stephan Wieser
What is it like to compete in the Olympic Games?
London 2012 was definitely one of the best times of my career and also of my life. It is an indescribable experience. There is a family atmosphere among the athletes – sport connects. Despite the high pressure, the atmosphere was relaxed. The winners were celebrated, “losers” were comforted.
For me it was the first games and I was very, very nervous. Honestly, everything went a little bit crazy and overwhelmed me a little bit. The setting, the crowd, the pressure, dreams, goals and expectations. And I didn’t do badly – I finished 10th in the individual and 5th in the team. Of course at first you are disappointed that the medal dream has been shattered, but in the meantime I am very proud of the results and of the privilege of being an Olympic athlete.
Unfortunately, there is hardly ever competitive sport without lows. Have there been any in your career?
There were always those. Whether it was the missed qualification for the 2016 Olympics, painful defeats at major events or setbacks due to injuries. I almost dare to say that I had more lows than highs. Nevertheless, I am happy on balance because the best moments are simply worth it. Setbacks are part of it – the trick is to learn from them and make the best of them.
A layman’s question about fencing: Does a hit with a sword hurt?
No, there’s nothing but a bruise. But you don’t usually notice it until after. Our equipment is very safe, the suits are made of Kevlar fabric, which is also used for bulletproof vests, and our blades are very flexible and if they break off, they are blunt at the point. Fencing today is officially one of the safest sports ever.
“Setbacks are part of it – the trick is to learn from them ” © Stephan Wieser
A fencing duel is characterized by explosiveness and tactics. How do body and mind work together on the planche?
The right strategy, courage, determination and the feeling for the right moment of attack are mental. Physically, explosiveness, speed and stamina are required. If all this plays together, you can successfully score hits. It’s all about milliseconds, you have to act, react and find the balance between determination and patience.
For you it is even a bit harder, because at 1.62 metres you are often smaller than your opponent.
I’m not so little that I can’t be found on the beach! But yes, because of my height and the corresponding range I often have a disadvantage, at least physically. Therefore I am very well technically trained and try to fight clever and tactical. And just because something seems to be disadvantageous at first sight, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make a strength out of it.
What does the training of a top fencer look like?
It consists of many components: I’m constantly working on stamina, strength, technique and mental acuity. The workload depends on whether I am in the build-up phase or in the competition phase. In the build-up phase, stamina and strength are the most important things, in the competition phase fencing is the main thing. In any case, the balance should not be neglected. At the moment that’s Bikram Yoga for me.
“I’ll clear my head!” © Stephan Wieser
Can you relax when you exercise? After all, that’s practically your profession.
Absolutely. Fencing is always my passion, with all the trimmings. In general I feel more alive after exercise. I clear my head and I have often had new insights, thoughts or ideas during the sport. In addition, you can also simply let off some pressure if necessary. Somehow I always have the feeling that when I sweat a lot of negative things leave my body. And it is well known that sport releases the happiness hormone endorphin. Sport simply makes you happy.
Does competitive sport allow time for hobbies?
Yes, art has always been my hobby and at the same time the balance to sports. I create fashion, draw and even have my own jewellery label MOSIKS was founded. It’s the second time I’m trying to turn my hobby into a career.
What is your next sporting goal?
Definitely the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Qualification will start in April 2019 and the EM and WM 2018 and 2019, in between a lot of World Cups all over the world. You have to score points to be able to compete in the Olympics again.