Michael Soukar to Compete for Syrian National Fencing Team

Racewalking, bobsleigh, luge, handball, biathlon…

The Olympic Games hold a range of novelty competitions that are generally forgotten by the mainstream during intervals between the games. For the past three years, FHC junior Michael Soukar has been plunging into the obscure outreach of one such sport: fencing.

“My parents knew the coach for the Grand Rapids area,” Soukar said, “so they encouraged me to join, and I heeded their advice.”

However, that is not all: Soukar is not competing for Grand Rapids, or even the United States. Despite his regular practicing at the Grand Rapids Advanced Fencing Academy (GRAFA), Soukar will be competing for the Syrian National Fencing Team during international competitions.

His parents both come from Syria, so although he lives in the the United States, Soukar is allowed to be registered as a dual citizen, belonging as a technical resident to both countries. This enables him to theoretically compete for Syria in any competition, including the Olympics.

And competing for Syria in the Olympics is not as lofty a goal for Soukar as some may be led to believe. Max De Back, a freshman from Cedar Springs and co-competitor alongside Soukar, thinks that Soukar can “go as far as he wants” under the domain of Syrian fencing.

“It’s a lot easier for him to qualify for things fencing for Syria, and it really helps him grow as an athlete I’d say,” De Back said. “He can go to all of the large events and easily compete if he’s under Syria. If you’re competing [with the United States] like me, it’s a lot harder to qualify for things because there is so much competition within the country. It’s a really big advantage for him.”

According to Soukar, his “coach lives in Syria, and [he hasn’t] talked to him in person yet, but [he’ll] see him in Italy for the first time” for the Fencing World Cup next January. In the meantime, he will practice in Grand Rapids and compete for his local club in various United States and North American competitions while receiving overseas instruction from his Syrian coach.

Soukar began his fencing endeavors three years ago, as per request of his parents. His parents knew the GRAFA instructors, and encouraged Soukar to join the sport, as it would provide a unique athletic experience.

“To be honest, the sport just sounded fun to me in the beginning,” Soukar said. “Swords and stuff you know.”

Although the sport itself goes far past just “swords and stuff,” the initial thrill of perceived medieval battle incentivises many newcomers to join. De Back himself grew a lust for combat after watching The Princess Bride, and insisted he must join the sport.

After years of participation, a fencer’s interest in the sport generally sprouts more intensely into the detailed mechanics displayed in combat. Ethan Kolderman, a sophomore from Rockford High School and additional GRAFA competitor, reveres the intense individual nature of combat.

“It’s just you out there on the strip,” Kolderman said. “It all comes down to your intelligence and power alone. [Fencing] is kind of like chess; [both sports] are games of strategy.”

Soukar has developed his skills and strategy at impressive rates so far in his involvement with the sport. Levels of competition are ranked by classes represented by letters, and Soukar is currently in class B, a notable achievement for a three year fencer. According to Kolderman, it typically takes participants “about four, five, or even six years to get that ranking.”

A strong aptitude and expedient learning in fencing hints at the possibilities of Soukar’s undecided future. Currently wishing to “hopefully get recruited to a D1 school, and hopefully compete in the Olympics,” he has decided to place his goals with no restraint and heed the advice of his fellow fencers by aiming for the utmost achievement. Unique circumstances place Soukar in a position of convenience far above his peers.

“The sport remains exciting as a combination of physical and mental dominance on the strip,” Soukar said. “You have to outwit your opponent while exerting yourself to the fullest potential in order to win.”