Sandra Sassine (CAN)
Sandra Sassine (CAN)

One of the greatest honors an athlete can have is representing your country. The one that trumps that is bringing home a medal. Sandra went to Zonals representing Canada and came back with hardware. Success. caught up with Sandra while she was getting ready for London.

Hardware for Canada! That has got to be a proud moment!

I am totally excited for the medal! I knew that I needed to replace points from last year’s silver result and this bronze certain helps.

My main goal was to do well in pools so I would have a good pathway to the medal round. I ended up facing Mariel [Zagunis] in the semis and she beat me.

I know Mariel as a person and I love her, but as a fencer, I really wanted to beat her!

I think you have the same sentiment as others around the world!

That’s what happens when you are number one! HA!

I was even leading in the match at the start, but I couldn’t hold the lead. One of my ultimate goals is to beat her. In Beijing, I lost to her also. I shouldn’t have to face her so much! HA!

What types of things are you doing now to prepare for London?

Right now, my main goal is to make sure I can rest! Since I’m from Montreal, I’ve had to travel to different camps and competitions around the world since there aren’t many people training partners for me.

All of these camps and competitions are across Europe like France and Germany, and in the States, like Portland and New York City.

So you get to train with a wide range of people then?

That part is great. I know Mariel [Zagunis] and the people at OFA [Oregon Fencing Alliance, Mariel’s Club] and Dagmara [Wozniak] and the people at Manhattan [Manhattan Fencing Center, Dagmara’s Club].

I have trained at TSV Bayer Dormagen in Germany where [Nicholas] Limbach and Stefanie [Kubissa] train at. Dormagen is a great place to train since it is in a small town and it is easy to get to, get around, and get food.

The training there is fantastic! Really, all of the best Germans’ tend to train there. The club has one wall that is all windows and you can look outside at all of nature so it is very beautiful.

The best part in training all over the world though is meeting all these different people. After it is all said and done, it is the relationships that you have developed over the years that really last for a lifetime.

When you were in Paris, where did you train at?

I trained at the INSEP National Center. It is a new huge facility that basically has a basketball sized gym for each weapon. It was great having all of that space to train.

That’s huge!

Yeah, it was great! Between world cups, I would constantly travel to another camp or club and train there while I was between world cups to maximize my training.

I was constantly gone from Feb-Mar and May-Jun. During those months, I was typically gone three weeks out of the month.

Wow! How did your work like that?

Well I work for the RBC Bank for Olympic Athletes and that is how I support myself. I do seminars all across Canada like Ontario, Toronto, Alberta, and Vancouver.

What type of seminars do you do?

I am basically a motivational speaker! I’ll talk about my life as an Olympian, my trials and successes, and give them takeaways that they can use in their lives. I do this through anecdotes and stories and I try and inspire them as best as I can!

How did you come up with the idea to do seminars like this?

Well, it all started with my quest to go to the Olympics.

In 1999 I had a hard decision to make. From 6-19 years old, I had a foil in my hand twice a day, but I wasn’t having any more fun. So I thought, “Either I change weapons or quit fencing.” Fortunately, I decided to switch to saber instead.

How long did it take you switch to saber?

It really took me about a year to switch to saber. I still love foil, but I am a sabrist now.

I tried to make the 2004 team, but I didn’t make it and it crushed me. During my run in 2004, I had no support; I paid for all of my trips on my own which meant when I traveled around the world, I would always use the train when I could because it cost less and whatever cost cutting measures I could.

It was very frustrating because the federation gave more credit to domestic competitions rather than the international competitions. Since I had better international results rather than domestic results, the federation didn’t send me to Zonals since there were people who had higher domestic points than I did; so I wasn’t able to qualify there for the Olympics.

That’s crazy that they weighed the points like that!

Yes, it was! Well, leading up to the 2008 Olympics, I changed my approach. I started working with some of the Jr. fencers, my dad was my coach, and I had other fitness coaches, so I could to develop a strong team so I wasn’t doing this solo like 2004.

Through team building like this, the women’s saber team was the only national team qualified from Canada to go to the Olympics in 2008. I’m very proud to be a part of that team!

What that also meant is I finally had something to sell to sponsors. I took three weeks and my goal was to find sponsors to help me offset my expenses to the Olympics. I did so many parties and met so many people during that time.

The challenge was it wasn’t until the very last day that I found some sponsors! One was an insurance company and the other was an engineering company. It was nerve racking!

What exactly happened?

It was the last event and largest event. It was a chamber event and I was at the table of honor. I was at the athlete table with two big companies and was able to talk about sports.

I knew that this was the last event that I had and I had to throw everything in the ring. I knew I had to lead with my heart and let the passion come out.

Well, I must have done something right because the next day I was in the office of one of the companies and they paid off my $20K debt that I had accumulated over a couple of years! I was a sponsored athlete!

That had to be an incredible feeling!

No kidding! Once all of the papers were signed, a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders! I had no idea how much stress I had been carrying!

My part of being sponsored was doing seminars for his employees and talk about my experience. I’m not working with that company anymore because of the way that the economy has been going, but because of my experience there, I was able to find my job at the RBC Bank.

Can I assume you are sharing how to do this with the up-and-coming sabrists?

Absolutely! All of the Jr. fencers at Cancun were calling me “mommy” because I was doling out a bunch of information of what to expect when you are fencing away from home. HA!

The subjects went from mental approach to what to eat! They would all gather around as I passed on my information to them.

I also tell them about how important it is to have a team. I tell them all of the time how important my dad has been as a coach to me.

In what ways?

My father Henry Sassine is an incredible coach! We lived in a small town called Chibougamau when I was growing up. He was on the Egyptian team and just before he moved to Canada, he was the African Games Champion in foil.

Even though he was in that small town, he raised eight Olympians! In fact, in 1996, all four Olympians for the men’s saber team came from Chibougamau.

Are you kidding? The whole saber team came from a very small town?

It’s crazy isn’t it! Fencing has always been a family affair for us. My brother was on the national team. My mother’s best competition was when she was pregnant with me!

Did she have to get a larger lame?

HA! No, she was only one or two months pregnant at the time!

So what advice would you give to people who are newer fencers?

Be willing to adapt on the strip. Each person is different. The more adaptable you are, the better you can impose your game plan faster.

Any last words?

People can follow me on my website

Like tips how wait to get sponsors on the very last day of a three week marketing tour?

HA! Totally!