Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mohebban grows area fencing

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
North Potomac resident Gitty Mohebban is sponsoring a fencing tournament Saturday.
There’s nothing like a little positive reinforcement. North Potomac resident Gitty Mohebban, 58, knows that better than anyone.

The native of Iran and former multi-sport Olympian has collected more than 40 medals in international competition, 28 of them gold. Since she retired from competition in 1998, Mohebban has taught fencing with the Montgomery County Department of Recreation.

To pass a little positive reinforcement on to her protégés, she decided to sponsor the county’s first-ever fencing tournament, 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bauer Drive Community Center in Rockville.

‘‘We’ve had competitions before within our school, but we never gave out trophies or medals,” Mohebban said. ‘‘I think that’s important. Especially for the students who have been with us for a long time and are now going off to college, we want to give them a chance to compete for a trophy.”

Mohebban said she has worked with over 3,000 students in various classes and summer camps. More than 30 have gone on to compete at the collegiate level, and three have earned fencing scholarships.

Mohebban began fencing competitively at age 12 and won her first national title at 13. She held the national gold medal in Iran for 16 years. At age 16, she became the youngest Iranian to compete internationally at the 1966 World Championships in Russia.

She moved to the United States in 1979 to attend George Washington University, where she earned a master’s degree in physical education.

Mohebban has competed in 14 world championships and two Olympics, in 1972 and 1976, finishing eighth at the latter, in Montreal. She has accrued 22 fencing gold medals, to go along with six others in volleyball, archery and table tennis.

She actually stumbled upon fencing accidentally. Mohebban and her friend raided the costume closet at the recreation center in her hometown, Esfahan, one day and found fencing garb and swords. They climbed the brick wall that surrounded the recreation center and playfully started sword fighting.

The head of the community center then took it upon himself to hire a fencing instructor. Mohebban was 12 at the time and didn’t even know what fencing was, but she attended class every day.

‘‘It was the first time there’d been fencing in Iran, especially in that city,” Mohebban said. ‘‘I love fencing because mentally and physically, you’re constantly challenging yourself. Each opponent is different and you have to analyze and strategize. It’s like a chess match; you’re constantly trying to make the right move.”

Fencing is a type of combat involving sword-like weapons (‘‘epees”). It requires quick reflexes, stamina, coordination, a strong mentality, leg and upper body strength. There are nine basic techniques athletes can combine in planning their attack.

Today, Mohebban devotes her time to growing the sport in the community. In order to compete in a fencing tournament, athletes must belong to a club, of which there are only two in the Washington area, both privately owned and costing about $1,700 per year.

Mohebban is working with the Montgomery County Department of Recreation to start her own certified club, which would enable her students to travel and compete in big competitions, thus evolving the sport in the area.

‘‘It’s good for youth to become involved in fencing, because you learn coordination, decision-making and how to be in control of your emotions,” Mohebban said. ‘‘You learn self discipline; action and reaction. And you don’t have to have these when you start. These are things you develop. And they’re qualities that help you in life.”