Fencing star Caitlin Maxwell’s impressive start to 2019 continued as she won bronze at the Junior European Championships. The 19-year-old, who is currently supported by SportsAid, had already returned two silver medals at World Cup events since the turn of the year before her podium finish in Foggia. She is now preparing to make her mark at the Cadet and Junior World Championships in Torun next month.
Caitlin will also be aiming to compete at senior championships this summer while her long-term goal is to represent Team GB at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. She has shown the resilience and mental strength to overcome a testing period training as a full-time athlete in Hungary and is now studying for a history degree at University College London (UCL).
Here, Caitlin reflects on her recent successes, looks ahead to future competitions, and emphasises the importance of her family’s support....
How much did it mean to you to win a bronze medal at the Junior European Championships?
“I actually had a bit of a rocky start in the poule round, winning three and losing three, leaving me ranked 32nd going into the direct eliminations. After that I re-focussed and managed to find my rhythm against a Spanish fencer before I fenced the Romanian who’d finished the poules seeded first. I really relaxed into my next two fights, against a Turkish fencer and an Italian, before making the semi-finals. In the semis I fenced a Russian who won the Championship last year, but I made a few too many mistakes and ended up losing 15-9. I was really happy with the achievement - it’s my first championship medal and I’d been aiming to peak for it all season. It means a lot to me that my work came together for a high-pressure event and that I showed my level.”
You’ve also claimed two silver medals at World Cup events so far this year. How pleased were you with what you achieved?
“The World Cup medals were really important to me because they were my first on the junior circuit. I’ve placed in the top eight a few times before but it felt like overcoming a barrier to actually make it into the semi-finals. A certain kind of relief came with competing at the level that I know I’m capable of, so that in itself is a personal achievement. The rest of the World Cups have been really helpful for my learning. In the first couple I didn’t come away with the result I wanted, but they highlighted to me small things I had to change that would make a big difference to my performance.”
What have been the key achievements of your career in fencing so far? And what are your main aims for the year ahead?
“There are a few that stand out for me. Other than my recent medal at the Europeans, winning the national championships is something I’m really proud of. Also, winning one of the internationals in the under-17s circuit in Hungary was important for me because it was when I realised I was competitive internationally. I aim to go to the European and World Championships in seniors and start making results on that level. It’s a bit different to juniors and so I think that’s the main thing I’ll be working on. In the junior worlds my objective is to medal and carry on with the form that I’ve had this season.”
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career so far? And what is your main long-term ambition?
“There have been points over the last couple of years where I felt stuck in a bit of rut and began to doubt my ability to fence at the level I felt capable of. This was really challenging, particularly last year, when I’d gone to train full-time in Hungary but saw my results get worse. Over time I approached competitions with a more positive mindset, and I got to see my hard work pay off. In the long term I aim to go the Olympics in 2024.”
Which experiences have you learnt the most from up to now?
“Training for a year in Hungary last year taught me a lot as an athlete. I suddenly had to become really independent in the way that I trained, and without the constant attention of guidance of my coach I had to work really hard on my concentration. Psychologically I found it quite challenging at times, but it was also really good for me. I’ve loved travelling around to different countries because you get to see so many different cultures. Sometimes I wish we had time to see more than the fencing hall, but I’m still very lucky!”
What difference has the support from SportsAid made to you?
“SportsAid has really helped me be able to afford the expensive costs for competitions and training. I’ve used the money to pay for my competitions on the World Cup circuit which have been so important for gaining experience and getting world ranking points. It’s always great to know that people outside of the fencing world are supporting you - especially by such a helpful organisation.”
Which other commitments do you have to balance alongside fencing?
“I’m also currently at UCL studying history. Balancing my studies with fencing is something that I’m used to, but it can be difficult when you don’t want to compromise on either. My coach has helped me a lot in planning my time so that I don’t get to the point that I have to miss out on university or fencing. I love both so I’m happy. I’m not sure what I’ll do after my degree but I’m interested in law. For the moment I’m not looking that far ahead - I’m just enjoying fencing and my course!”
Lastly, how important has the support of your family and coach been to you in pursuing your sporting ambitions?
“My family are so supportive and I’m really grateful for that. My mum has always been an amazing role model for me, and both of my parents have sacrificed a lot so that I can train and compete as much as I do. I’ve been working with my coach Jon for over ten years now and I can’t imagine where I’d be without him! Years of dedication, support and belief has massively shaped me as a fencer and a person.”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Caitlin can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.