The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Ohio State senior Eleanor Harvey readies for Rio Olympics.

Eleanor Harvey

Eleanor Harvey

Until age 15, Eleanor Harvey’s hand often held a violin bow. And for six years, it was a piano keyboard that she attacked with controlled passion. “I know there’s a completely different person who could have been here,” Harvey said of an alternate life as a musician. Instead, with a foil firmly in her grip, the Ohio State senior is representing Canada as a fencer at this summer’s Olympics.

Harvey is one of three Buckeye fencers heading to Rio de Janeiro next month. Her former teammate Mona Shaito ’14 will represent Lebanon in foil, and 2009 graduate Jason Pryor will compete for the United States in men’s épée. (The differences between those two types of fencing: the weight of the weapons — up to 500 grams for foil and up to 755 grams for épée; and the area a competitor can target — the torso in foil and the entire body in épée.)

For Harvey, this summer will mean a decade-long dream come true, though not the one she first imagined.

Harvey took up fencing as a 10-year-old in Hamilton, Ontario, only after she learned that karate, her first athletic love, was not an Olympic sport. And to be clear, making the Olympics was the goal. “I always watched it every four years,” she said. “It seemed to be the epitome — the highest you could go.”

Harvey said she wouldn’t be at the pinnacle without her mother, Lise Graydon, and grandmother Norma Beattie. While mom worked, grandmother drove Harvey to practices and competitions. Eventually, Graydon sold their house to pay for her daughter’s fencing pursuits.

“Every time I went to the next level I would win,” Harvey said. That’s when she had the idea she could be a champ. “I wouldn’t accept losing.”

Role models helped every step of the way, including Shaito, a veteran of the 2012 Summer Games in London. “She taught me how important it is never to give up,” Harvey said, “because she is known for being a fighter, even when she’s losing by a lot.”

Harvey chose to be a Buckeye in no small measure because of the coaching staff. Vladimir Nazlymov has been at the helm of Ohio State’s fencing program for 15 years, and for a decade the team has placed among the top five in the country. Nazlymov has coached three national championships with the university — in 2004, 2008 and 2012. The most recent included Shaito.

Nazlymov describes Harvey as “a very smart girl, very hardworking. She’s a piranha.” Harvey and Shaito will need that ferocious spirit, he said, when they face fencers from Italy, Russia and France at the Games. And while Nazlymov will be in Rio to cheer on his athletes, he will not be there in a coaching capacity.

As one of the youngest fencers competing in Rio, the 21-year-old Harvey is keeping her expectations in check. “I’m just excited to see what’s going to happen.”

Her most thrilling bout so far came at the end of last year’s Pan American Games. Harvey won in overtime to give Team Canada its first victory over the United States in women’s foil in the history of the games. “I just fell to the ground,” where she was rushed by her teammates. “It’s more fun to
win together.”

Another high point: Harvey earned the NCAA title in women’s foil in March when she defeated the competition’s No. 1 seed, making her only the second Buckeye to capture an NCAA championship in women’s foil.

In addition to the gold medalsshe’s won in national and international competitions, the psychology major is proud of the 4.0 GPA she has earned each of the past three semesters. And when Harvey finally hangs up her foil? “My plan is to move back to Canada and be a part-time fencing coach and be a firefighter.” It’s a career that will require her to be “mentally calm and physically fit,” just like fencing.


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