COVER STORY

Fencing his way to the mile-high U.S. Olympic Training Camp


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 2:47 p.m.

During the traditional school year, Bob Lightner, 56, manages the TV studio at Santa Fe Community College and also coaches its fencing team. In the summer, Lightner's fencing expertise earns him a regular invitation to the U.S. Olympic Training Camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Bob Lightner is a member of the staff of the coaches' clinic at the Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs.

Lightner's career as a fencer began on his first day at the Wallingford School for Boys in Britain. An 8- year-old Lightner, unimpressed with the region's rain and cold, asked if the school offered any physical education classes that were taught indoors.

"When they described fencing as sword fighting, I said `Hey.' And the real clincher was that it was taught at a girls' school," remembers Lightner, whose father's job in the military eventually brought the family back to the States. Since then, fencing has taken Lightner to England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Canada, Korea and his wife's home, the Philippines, where Lightner occasionally assists the fencing coaches during the Southeast Asian Games.

In 1983, Lightner, who came to Gainesville in 1972 to earn a degree from UF in broadcasting, made the transition from an athlete to a coach, assuming a position with the UF fencing team. Two years later, Lightner joined the staff of the coaches' clinic at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

The National Fencing Coaches Association of America, which gave Lightner its highest certification (Fencing Master) in 1988, began these annual summer sessions in Colorado, because American fencers weren't holding up against their European counterparts in overseas competition.

At the training center, Lightner sleeps in its dorms, along with the other fencing coaches and athletes. "The best part of it is the food out there is pretty incredible. At the dining hall, you can get anything you want to eat at any time of the day." Despite all the good eating, Lightner says he works too hard to put on any weight. "We're working from the early-morning hours to late in the evening, with only a few breaks after lunch and little bit of rest. It's an intense time."

Lightner's wife, Edna, and their 9-year-old son James visited him in Colorado last summer. "My son just loves meeting all the athletes and getting all their autographs," he says. "My wife loves that, too. She met (Olympic speed skater and gold medalist) Apollo Ono, and she kept following him around saying, `Let's see what he eats. Let's see how he puts his shoes on.'" Regardless of the adjustment it requires to become acclimated to the altitude, Lightner says he loves the moderate Colorado summers, with highs in the low 80s and hardly any humidity. Lightner says:

"When I go to Colorado Springs, I wear shorts, and people say, `You're crazy. It's 40 degrees.' But I think about how hot and humid it would be in Gainesville."

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