Sports & Recreation

Madelon Rosenfeld ’71: Staying Sharp as a Fencing Champion

By day, Madelon Rosenfeld is a judge, and by night, she’s a world-class fencer. Photo: Ira Block

During her workday, Madelon Rosenfeld ’71 alternates between hearing cases that come before the New York City Environmental Control Board and arbitrating for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. When she hangs up her judge’s robes, the sixty-one-year-old puts on a white fencing jacket and assumes the mantle of a national fencing champion.

Rosenfeld has always been competitive, but her early focus was on academics and social justice. “In Madison, the only exercise I got was during anti-war marches,” she says. “I’ve gotten more physically active in the second half of my life.”

When she moved to New York in 1986 to be with her future husband, National Geographic photographer Ira Block, she did some freelance writing, created a television production company, and worked to become a member of the New York State Bar Association. And once while Block was away on an eight-week photo shoot in Africa, Rosenfeld decided to join a gym.

That’s when she began to develop her inner athlete. “I started running. I learned to swim. I lift weights. I do yoga,” she says. “Then somebody I worked with mentioned that he’d started fencing at a club near where I lived. It sounded intriguing.”

But fencing did not come easily to Rosenfeld. “I have no sense of timing, but I refused to give up,” she says. “I kept going and going and going.” She pushed herself hard and then found a coach trained in Kazakhstan who pushed her even harder. She now has two coaches: one for facing right-handed opponents and one for lefties, who are harder to beat.

The hard work has certainly paid off. Last summer, just a decade after her first fencing class, Rosenfeld won all three national tournaments in her category of women aged sixty to sixty-nine, and found herself fencing for the U.S.A. in Croatia, where she placed eighth in the world and first in America.

“I had to remind myself that I’d trained hard, and I deserved this. My problem is that I start to feel bad for my opponent,” she says. “I was fencing a woman from France, and I was ahead 4 to 0. I felt bad that she didn’t have a point. As soon as I thought that, she got a point. That made me mad at myself, and I beat her 5 to 1.

“Fencing,” says Rosenfeld, “makes you sharper. You have to focus, or you’re going to get hit. I’ve had a finger broken and a couple of bruised ribs — guys in their forties who don’t want to be beaten by a woman can hit pretty hard.” Rosenfeld knows now that she can hit hard, too. She’s set her sights on the next world competition in Bulgaria, but she knows there is more to life than fencing.

“I would like to try ice hockey,” she says. “And somebody from Yahoo! called me. They want to feature me on their Second Act Web site [which features videos of people over forty who have reinvented themselves], but I’m not ready for that. I feel like I’m still in the previews.”

Published in the Spring 2011 issue


  • beatrice September 24, 2011

    Dear Madelon, great article, hope to see you here in Atlanta, much love, beatrice

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