Weinberg senior Dayana Sarkisova has been fencing since she was six years old, but her history with the sport reaches back, far beyond that. Sarkisova was born into international fencing royalty: Her father, Mikhail Sarkisov, and uncle, Arkadiy Sarkisov, both held the title of World Champion.
From 1986 to 1988, Mikhail Sarkisov's Azerbaijani team earned medals in Soviet national title competition. However, before Mikhail Sarkisov could pursue opportunities to compete in the 1988 Olympics or become a coach, the Sarkisov family made the decision to move to the United States to provide for their 11-month-old daughter, Dayana.
“It makes me appreciate everything a lot more,” she said. “I know my parents gave up so much to help me come here and have the opportunity to fence and go to school in the United States instead. It just makes me realize how lucky I am and how blessed I am because I know a lot of people don’t have that same opportunity.”
Sarkisova’s father coached her in Grand Rapids, Mich., at the Grand Rapids Fencing Club. It was at her father’s encouragement that Sarkisova pursued Northwestern, advice she is “really grateful for.”
In her high school fencing career, Sarkisova left quite a mark. She had back-to-back seasons as a nationally ranked junior foilist and travelled around the United States and internationally.
Sarkisova wasted no time in leaving her mark on Northwestern fencing as well. At the end of her freshman season, she placed third in the NCAA Championships and was named an All-American. The following year, Sarkisova finished in 10th place and again earned All-American honors. Her junior season, she was an All-American once more and earned a sixth place finish.
With such a prolific career already, it seems like there isn’t much left for Sarkisova to achieve. However, she feels she has some unfinished business.
“I really want to be an All-American again,” she said. “Just for myself, I think that would be really nice to say that I did it all four years. The most important thing is just to soak in everyday. It’s easy to take for granted when you’re not a senior.”
Getting to the point she is in her career didn’t come easily. Sarkisova said the one thing most people don’t realize about fencing is “we practice so much and train so much.”
In the fall, “it’s pretty much all fencing, all the time” for Sarkisova and the team. The day starts at 7 a.m. with team workouts at the Welsh-Ryan Complex. Then she goes to classes, in between which she trains individually with her coaches at Patten. She returns to the Welsh-Ryan for rehab by 3 p.m. The team practices from 3:45 to 6:15 and on Wednesdays, until 8 p.m. when the team runs a clinic for young fencers.
All of this training has seemed to pay off. At this weekend’s Remenyik Open, Sarkisova placed third in the foil competition. She has been battling some off-season injuries but despite her setback, head coach, Laurie Schiller, believes she performed well and will continue to provide “strong senior leadership” throughout the season.
“She worked real hard to get to third,” Schiller said. “I expect her to have another really strong season and go back to the NCAA and hopefully be an All-American.”
Despite her busy in-season schedule, Sarkisova still finds time to run a blog on nusports.com, in which she documents the team’s season, hoping to gain more exposure for a sport that “isn’t very common.”
“I thought it would be really interesting to give people an inside look at what the girls are like, what the team is like, what competing on the fencing team really means,” she said. “I just find our team, the girls, my teammates, so impressive that I wanted to showcase it.”
This year’s team is a relatively young one, with 10 freshmen and six sophomores on a 25-person roster. Right now the team is still focusing on “getting to know each other” and Sarkisova has been instrumental in “lending her experience” to the other girls on the team according to Schiller.
Also on Sarkisova’s blog, she has detailed her experiences as an intern for Under Armour this summer. She applied for the job through a competition run by Under Armour. She said the job had nothing on Northwestern’s infamous midterm rush.
The internship gave Sarkisova a taste of what she hopes her future career will be like. She said her favorite memory was covering MLB All-Star week, where she was “talking to other athletes and getting new perspectives.”
“It definitely solidified the fact that I want to work in sports,” she said. “It was just so exciting, constantly being around athletes. It’s just something I want to keep in my life for sure.”
To do so, Sarkisova may have the opportunity to compete at the highest level there is: the Olympics. Even though her father had to give up his Olympic dreams, Sarkisova may not.
“I don’t know if necessarily the Olympics are still an option, but I know no matter what, fencing will be around.”