Kate and I are best friends. But so many pieces of our personalities land on opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m currently breaking in some kick-butt new hiking boots that have soles like tire treads; she lives in the most adorably girly apartment I’ve ever seen in real life. She’s a little quiet before you get to know her, and I talk to strangers like I never learned the not-talking-to-strangers rule in preschool.
But when it matters, we’re a perfect match. We have the same values, a similarly nerdy sense of humor, respect for each other’s opinions and an excessive amount of fun together at all times. And we both enjoy a fair amount of the outdoors AND sparkles.
Last spring, Kate and I took a Dabble class in fencing. It was coached by Jon-Girl, owner and all-around matriarch of everything RedStar Fencing in Chicago. To get where she is today, Jon-Girl went through a huge transition from climbing the corporate ladder to owning and running Redstar.
Youth fencing at RedStar.
Come try it for yourself!
Fencing brings together athleticism and grace, passion and precision. Our lesson was a challenging workout, a test of our coordination and—as always—tons of fun. Read on about why Jon-Girl has made it her life. And please let us know what you think about our first awesome interview in the comments!
People with Panache: Let’s start at the beginning. Why fencing?
Jon-Girl: I went into the job market just like you did, out of need of sustenance, because I had to. But it didn’t feel right. It felt like I was wearing a different size shoe or something. And you begin to learn about yourself.
I took an early retirement from a company I was working for—that doesn’t mean I’m a millionaire—I was young and stupid. At the time, I wasn’t cut out for the corporate environment at all. I can’t do memos, I can’t do any more meetings; it’s just not for me. I had a list of things I wanted to do in my life, and I wanted to try fencing.
“I wanted to go to this hoity-toity sport and contaminate it with our personality!”
Back then, I had one girlfriend who was into archery and another into equestrian dressage, and it was pretty interesting because they have tattoos just like I do. You don’t expect to see equestrian riders with tattoos. We are very independent women. I wanted to go to this hoity-toity sport and contaminate it with our personality!
Jon-Girl doesn’t normally look quite this serious—but she does look this badass!
PWP: Okay, so you quit your job. What was the next step?
JG: I was new to fencing, and I wanted to get very high-level instruction. I was doing research in the Chicagoland area and wanted to get serious about fencing. This was going to be my thing. I looked up this fencing club called Chicago Athletic Association (CAS). I talked to the president, and he said they needed someone to help run the club. I said, “Hey, I have a lot of free time!” I got the chance to run tournaments, attend tournaments and start competing. I got an inside look on how to run a fencing club.
PWP: Where does RedStar come in?
JG: Peter [Ed note: Jon-Girl’s former coach, now husband] actually became my coach during CAS years. He and I decided that they wanted to do things with more of an old-school mentality, but we wanted young blood. Fencing clubs are usually old guys typically from a different generation and not very tech-savvy.
We wanted to market it as a cool sport, not a rich-person sport, with forward thinking and new innovations. We wanted to change how people perceive fencing and show them how fun it can be. Our space was designed to match our brand. We’re not just focusing on fencing in general, but the brand. Forward thinking. It’s so much fun to think about! The other club owners don’t see that as important. Plus, Peter and I actually just got married last January. That’s a very nice partnership.
PWP: So, what’s it like to finally have your own club?
JG: Not only is it the athletic perspective, from the coaching standpoint, but you have to run the business, too. I don’t have a typical day. When I’m allowed to sleep, I sleep. It’s sort of a one-woman operation in the fencing club. When people sign up, they know Jon-Girl is the person everything has to be approved by. When we go to tournaments and stuff, I’m the behind-the-scenes lady, and the coaching staff is out there to show.
“…if we could do this forever it would be awesome to establish something like a legacy.”
PWP: How did you find the courage to pursue this path when you weren’t sure if it would work out?
JG: I don’t want to say this is what I was meant to do. I just think this was what was needed at the time. This is what we needed. This is something that we started, and it was like this project, and if we could do this forever it would be awesome to establish something like a legacy. It has something to do with pride, too. So it’s kind of like a dream, not the dream.
Jon-Girl spends most of her time coaching. But she also competes on a local and national level six times a year—like in this pic!
I do think now that I’ll probably do this forever. I never feel that I was destined to do this. I never feel that way about anything in my life. I refuse to admit that my deck of cards was already laid out when I was born. Anything could change; anything can change. But this is the longest commitment to anything I’ve made in my life; I haven’t even owned my car for that long!
I think when you’re young and independent and think you’re wise, you take more risks. At the time, I didn’t feel like I had any luggage to sacrifice—a house, pets, a boyfriend—something that would keep me from doing what I wanted to do. I never thought that fencing was not going to be a direction in my life, but because the way the cards fell—and I liked the way they fell—I decided to pick up that stack of cards and run with it. It just worked out. I do feel blessed—very, very blessed.
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