On Thursday afternoon, a dozen masked individuals crossed sabers in clashes that ranged throughout a former warehouse beneath City Bikes in Tenleytown across from Georgetown Day School. One witness observed several onlookers hollering at those wielding sabers but noted that the shouts only seemed to spur greater intensity in the fights. All individuals dispersed by 3:15 p.m. No injuries were reported.
No need to panic. On Thursday, GDS Middle School fencing players in the P.E. program practiced fitness, footwork, and saber sparring basics under the watchful eyes of coaches Jacob Hazle-Cary, Jeffrey “JT” Trembly, and Cole Leonard, a Junior at GDS.
In 2018, GDS parents Vitali Nazlymov and Zheng Wang (Tatiana Nazlymov ’23) founded Nazlymov Fencing. Vitali is a former Individual NCAA Champion and three-time first team All American in sabre. Tatiana’s grandfather, Vladimir, is three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, ten-time World Champion, and former captain of the national teams for the former Soviet Republic and the United States. As coaches, Vitali previously developed an Olympic development program in Kansas City and Vladimir led the powerhouse University of Ohio fencing team for nearly 20 years. The legacy of gold seems to be continuing for those in GDS green.
Nazlymov Fencing, which now operates out of a studio leased from Georgetown Day School and located across the street from GDS’s future unified campus (and current High School building), offers a P.E. program for Middle School students. Cole has committed to coaching the Middle School students twice a week—a collaboration that adds an important layer of value to the program. As a fencing athlete himself, Cole has won nearly 70 medals while fencing since he began while in the 2nd grade at GDS and is nationally ranked and rated.
Cole was the Region IV* Gold Medalist in Sabre in Y10 (2013-14) and Y14 (2017-18). He has been named to the USA Fencing High School All American Team (Second Team) and to the All-Academic Team** (Honorable Mention) for the last two years running.
“Fencing is frequently referred to as ‘physical chess’ so there is a lot of strategy involved in order to win a bout,” Cole explained. “I want to assist students with mastering the fundamentals of fencing. Once that basic understanding is accomplished, I want to expose the students of GDS to the marvelous opportunity to fence that lies across the street from the campus next year.”
Alexa ’25, a participant in the Middle School fencing program, said, “It’s cool to see someone at our High School is so good. It shows that if you come here and really try, you can be a great fencer. Cole is a good coach and seems to be really knowledgeable. The hardest thing is footwork and he’s helped us understand about the importance of speed and timing.”
“He helps out with everyone and sometimes with the activities,” said Tomás ’25. “Sometimes I forget to do my grip right. When I was fencing with Cole, he saw that my grip [on the sabre] was wrong and he showed me how to hold it properly with my arm to the side. He also helped me with my stance. Now that I know how to lunge right, I can do it longer and faster.”
Cole has also developed as a coach. “While students respond to me very differently, compared to their response to my fellow coaches, I feel that I am an effective coach,” Cole said. “Since I am younger, I am able to act as a good disciplinarian because the kids are often more responsive when a fellow student directs them. I am able to connect with them well because I was recently in their shoes, and I am able to take an older brother sort of role.”
During a recent meet at the Nazlymov Fencing studio, Cole’s father Joe Leonard explained that fencing has been valuable to Cole in many ways beyond only athleticism. The presence of mind that fencing requires helped Cole develop mindfulness and mental poise. As a nine-year-old, fencing strengthened his confidence, and now, as a High School Junior, fencing is strengthening his value as a college applicant.
“Fencing has impacted my life in many different ways,” Cole said. “Since the age of nine, I have been able to make new friends, both near and far, and travel around the country. Additionally, I have learned life lessons that I can carry with me. Success in the sport of fencing is 90% mental and only 10% physical. Through fencing, I have learned to trust the voice in my head, because I have been successful because of it. Fencing has taught me that confidence truly is key.”
As a coach and as an athlete, Cole notes feeling that he is representing himself, his coaches, his school, and his family. “By aligning my efforts with something greater than my own achievements, I believe that I can infuse my efforts with further purpose and passion,” he said.
This year, only three GDS High School students fence: Amir Chambers ’21, Tatiana, and Cole. Tatiana began the Cadet season (Y16) by placing 13th at Summer Nationals and finished third at the North American Cup in Milwaukee in November. Top 20 fencers in the nation can also represent the U.S. at Cadet World Cup circuit in Europe. Tatiana placed 48th in the world in Hungary in October, 65th in Germany in November, and 17th in the world at the last World Cup in Austria in December. Amir, who works with a similar group of young students from Washington International School, is also a highly ranked and rated fencer. All three student athletes—Cole, Tatiana, and Amir—have qualified for and will compete in the Junior Olympic Championships next month in Columbus, Ohio. Currently, Tatiana is ranked 19th in the US going into that competition.The GDS unified campus, coming in Fall 2020, is not only bringing all its students together in one location, but it is also unifying great fencing talent around a central Washington, DC hub.
Cole said, “I want the GDS community to take advantage of the world class coaching we have just across the street: the head coach...is considered one of the best saber fencers of all time. Also, another one of our coaches will be a saber fencing referee in the 2020 Olympic Games. The best fencers in the DMV are flocking to our club and once the campus is unified, our club will be one of the most competitive in the country.”
GDS fencing’s origins are gold. Within a few short years—with the talent Nazlymov is attracting and the leadership of High School students like Cole, Tatiana, and Amir—it could be gold again.
*Region VI includes Delaware, Maryland, Washington, DC, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, and Mississippi.
**The All-Academic distinction is awarded to student-athletes who have performed well academically while regularly competing for their institution.
Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.