Her sport has taken her around the world and now former Princeton fencing champion Maya Lawrence is now living and working in Paris in preparation for a run for an Olympic medal in Beijing in 2008.
Maya Lawrence is in Europe, working as an "assistante d'angalis" at a lycée (high school) in Paris, through a program administered by the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. She's also training with some of the world's best fencers in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
It's a hard path -- competing on a world-class level in preparation for the Olympics, while beginning as a teacher of English as a second language. And Lawrence could have picked an easier venue for this training. When she arrived in France in September 2005 she "didn't know the language. If you start [speaking] in English they get mad at you," she says, "but if you try first in French they're fine."
But then Lawrence is used to this dual path. Perhaps it started when she chose to attend Princeton. A native of Teaneck, N.J., she believes "almost every student in New Jersey knows about Princeton!" For her, the decision to go was because "it has a stellar academic reputation, but fencing was also factor in my decision. It seemed natural to choose the school with the best of both worlds."
Arriving at Princeton in the fall of 1998, Lawrence immediately started her athletic and academic tracks. Fencing began slowly until long-time Princeton coach Michel Sebastiani suggested she had the potential to become a champion -- if she committed to a more rigorous training regimen that combined both conditioning and fencing fundamentals.
Lawrence agreed and results quickly followed, as she won both the Ivy League and Junior Olympics epee championships that year. This success also cemented her relationship with Sebastiani, one that continues to this day. "He's taught me more about fencing than I ever thought I could learn," says Lawrence. "I still train with Michel when I'm in the States."
Lawrence also acquired a fencing partner, a Lou Gehrig to go with her Babe Ruth -- Lindsay Campbell, a formidable fencer in her own right and a two-time first team All-Ivy epeeist. The "partnership" approach is essential in fencing: having a proficient partner allows a fencer to optimize his or her abilities in practice and thus perform at the highest level in team competition.
"Lindsay and I have been fencing together for seven years," says Lawrence. "We have been on several teams together including the Princeton varsity team, the World University Games team, the World Championship team and the New York Fencers Club team. We have a healthy rivalry; when we're competing we both want to win (badly), but our bouts are always cordial."
Academically Lawrence was taking on serious challenges as well. Majoring in politics, she took on a senior thesis that required research in South Africa. "My research included conducting surveys on the Princeton campus as well as the University of Cape Town campus in South Africa," says Lawrence. "My trip to Cape Town was amazing. I learned a lot about a country that is in many ways different, but in some ways very similar to our own."
Stretching intellectually and athletically, to Lawrence, is inherently part of the Princeton experience. "My teammates motivated me to train hard," says Lawrence, "and my classmates and professors motivated me to keep up with my studies."
Graduating in 2002, Lawrence moved on to Columbia University Teacher's College. In 2005 she received an M.A, in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and paired this academic achievement with an athletic one: winning the 2005 national epee championship.
Now in France, Lawrence is facing the academic/athletic challenge all over again. "I fence 12-13 hours a week, and work 12-13 hours a week at the school," she says. "Then I'm traveling -- the World Championships in Torino, then World Cup competitions in Budapest, Rome, Luxembourg, Paris, possibly Prague, Havana, and Montreal."
It's tough financially as well. "It's really, really difficult," says Lawrence. "I get odd jobs, some tutoring, a small sponsorship from the U.S. Athletic Trust (which helps Olympic hopefuls)." She concludes, with perhaps a wistful glance to back to college, that "it's easier to be a student-athlete than it is to be an athlete who also works full time."
— Stephen Eschenbach