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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 31, 2008

Life long teacher still has edge

By Saranac Hale Spencer

BINGHAMTON — Repeated with purpose and force for each match and quickly followed by the clash of swords and the grunts of competition is the imperative, “Fence!”

Raising his sabre at the Empire State Games last Saturday was Robert Nelson, of Voorheesville, who placed eighth in the men’s masters’ division for sabre fencing.

A coterie of former students watched from the bleachers, holding poster-board signs of support, in the stuffy gym at Davis College in Binghamton.  Nelson had been a history teacher in Centereach, on Long Island, where he also coached fencing.  Last year, a student of his won the gold medal in foil, he said, adding with a smile, “That’s why I don’t fence foil.”

A stocky man, Nelson moves deliberately and with agility, lunging up and down the strip.  “It’s very fast,” he said of why he chose to fence sabre, instead of the more academic foil, or the practical epee.  “It’s a good excuse to keep working out,” he said.

Nelson first picked up a blade as a freshman in Centereach.  His history teacher, Tom Cakauros, taught him the sport, he said.  “He was a second dad to a lot of us,” Nelson said.

He went on to fill a similar role for students at the school, as he taught history for 34 years and fencing for 38, before moving upstate to retire, he said.

“First I thought it was just sword fighting,” said Greg Bustamante, but Nelson showed him the nuances, he said from the bleachers, with a medal dangling from his neck, as he watched his former coach fence.  Bustamante, going into his senior year of high school, medaled in the epee competition earlier in the games.  In the years since he began fencing, also as a freshman, Bustamante has learned to appreciate the “excitement that you use your body as well as your mind,” he said.

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