Van Essen, who was born deaf, grew up in a family where fencing was the order of the day, but only joined the sport four years ago. Schröder admitted that since joining fencing, Van Essen’s performance has been constant.
“Astrid has been doing well. However, there’s a problem for a deaf fencer, you have to wait for the judge to queue you,” he told Courant Sport.
“She cannot hear the words, so she has to look at him and at his hand gestures. If you don’t start the same time as other people, it’s a problem. So, she has to look at two places; the referee and the opponent.”
Regardless of these challenges, Schröder added, the club had been working hard to ensure that even disabled fencers perform well.
“We have our disability programmes and are running the programme in South Africa as well. We also have other disabled fencers, who are severely disabled and cannot participate at a competitive level."
“However, it’s not always about winning, but participating. Our disabled fencers are aware of their limitations. Some of them enjoy being part of that community and learning the skill.”
“The problem with specific disability and fencing is that there is only one category meant specifically for disabled fencers, and that’s when you are in a wheelchair," he added.
“You can participate in wheelchair fencing. As soon as you have another disability, you must participate with abled-bodied fencers.”
“Some of the disabilities are so severe that you won’t have an athletic ability to participate in the competitive level or against the abled-bodied fencers.
“You practice to better yourself, and that’s all. However, Astrid is doing her best, because she’s going there.”
Van Essen, the Epee and Sabre fencer, has been doing well at national level despite her detriments. Early this year, she received a gold medal in Sabre at the Eastern Cape competition.
Recently, her outstanding performance saw her clinch the bronze medal in the women’s senior category at the KwaZulu-Natal Open Championship, making it the fourth medal for the Free State team at the tournament.
She admitted that her family played a huge role in her success. Van Essen is one of four Free State fencers who were awarded the national colours this year, and she regarded the achievement as one of her few highlights.
“This is the highlight in my fencing career. The other thing, having also been selected for the team to represent the country at the international tournament, the Fencing Commonwealth Games in Scotland (in November), is something huge,” she stressed.
She added that one of her highlights off the pitch was to see the satisfaction in her father’s face knowing that one of his youngest children has followed in his footsteps.
The team will also be preparing for the Junior National Championship in Gauteng in a month’s time, as well as the Gauteng Open Championship in December.