Fighting talk from the first lady of fencing
Four years ago, Aobakwe Modise was cruelly denied a chance to compete at the World Fencing Championships in China after failing to secure a Visa in time.
Missing out on fencing’s biggest competition through no fault of her own was a devastating blow to Modise, 24, who had trained tirelessly for her shot at glory.
Instead of letting the setback destroy her, however, the young fencer used the disappointment as motivation, returning to her training with a new hunger.
A year later her hard work paid off in spectacular style.
In 2019, the Tlokweng native became the first local fencer to represent Botswana at the World Championships, held in Budapest, Hungary.
It is an experience she will never forget.
“My time at the World Champs was great. The exposure to world class athletes really helped my development, I learned so much,” the defending National Champion tells Voice Sport in an exclusive interview.
Although she was knocked out in the pool stages, coming up against powerhouses like South Korea and the hosts Hungary, competing against the elite was an eye-opener for Modise.
“I was playing with two weapons, epee and foil. People were surprised and told me I’d have to choose between the two someday! I also noticed we [Botswana] are still far behind [the required standards] in terms of fencing.”
It is a gap the country’s top ranked fencer is doing her best to close.
“To take fencing forward locally, we have to secure financial assistance as this sport is expensive. We need support to attend international tournaments, which is when we will grow,” says the woman who has gone on to dominate the sport in recent years.
Having originally set her heart on becoming a footballer, Modise first picked up the blade as a high-school student in 2014, introduced to the sport by, Thabile Pilane, who would also emerge as one of Botswana’s finest fencers.
“She suggested we try out fencing. Although it was tricky at the start, eventually we both fell in love with it. By 2015, I decided to focus on fencing, it clashed with football and I could not do them both.”
Football’s loss was to be fencing’s gain.
“I crafted my skills through the years and by 2016, I was a fencing coach. I attended a series of training camps to become a better fencer overall,” she tells Voice Sport.
By 2018, the first lady to represent Botswana at the Africa Championships was good enough to fight her way to second place in the foil category at the Western Cape Open in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
As fate would have, Modise and Pilane met in the final of last year’s National Championships in November, with Modise coming out on top against her long-time friend-cum-rival.
Playing down her swordplay, she attributes her victory to her superior fitness.
“I won because I was fitter. I conduct fencing lessons hence I get to train while I am doing that; it has really helped me to become a better fencer,” says Modise, who now has her sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“For me to qualify for the Olympics, I have to attend so many international competitions so that I can be recognised in the World Rankings. I know it is going to be difficult but I am optimistic that I can reach that level,” declares the sportswoman, the steel in her voice almost as strong as the weapon she fights with.