Fencing To The Hilt


Zach Ortiz enters senior year as Nassau County Gold Medal winner


Zach Ortiz after getting named to the All-Long Island Fencing Team

Zach Ortiz is really good at fencing. Earlier this year, he captured the Nassau County Gold Medal in foil at Garden City High School’s final meet at Great Neck North High School. What started out as a diversion from intramural soccer several years ago has morphed into a solid athletic path that’s found him captaining the Garden City High School team currently being coached by Kevin Oliver.
“I was originally playing and I think we saw fencing on the Olympics a while back. I didn’t enjoy soccer that much, so I decided to give this a try. I got to play with swords, so that worked,” Ortiz explained. “It was exactly nothing like I thought it would be. But over time, I stuck with it and especially after I got to the high school and got to work with Coach Oliver, it really made the sport more fun for me. It’s a solo sport, but when you’re on a team, it really changes a lot of things.”

In operating at this high level of the sport, training and preparation are equally rigorous and go far beyond the November to January fencing season. For the Garden City High School senior, that extends to his being a regular attendee at Mineola’s Five Towns Fencing Club.
“In season, we have practice six days a week—Monday through Saturday—and those are around two-hour practices, plus or minus 30 minutes for getting the stuff out for practice,” he shared. “Out of season I normally do 11 months of fencing with July being my month off. I normally go four days a week for two to three hours, Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.”

Zach Ortiz (right) scores a touch against Great Neck South

Along with having a younger sister, Sophia, who entering her sophomore year at Garden City High School, Ortiz is the son of defense attorney, Robert, and Herricks School District gym teacher, Tina. The fencer’s favorite class in his junior year was Meredith Foley’s AP Chem class and he’s looking forward to taking a crack at AP Bio this year. It all falls in line with his desire to possibly end up with a medical career and the schools he’s currently checking out.
“Medical sciences are probably up there on the list of what I want to do. I can’t say for certain as of yet,” he said. “As for the colleges, Johns Hopkins for one. We looked at University of North Carolina (UNC) and we’re thinking Boston College has a really good science program. Anywhere that there is a fencing program and a strong science program are places that we’re looking.”

While that kind of career pursuit is sure to include a lot of hard work and pressure, it’s part of the difficulty and enjoyment Ortiz derives from his sport of choice.
“One of the largest fencing challenges is when I’m going up against an opponent and am down by a certain amount. Especially if there is something weighing on my mind,” he said. “Imagine that it’s match point, 13-13 and next person who gets the point wins and you’re the one who’s on that last link. That pressure is what I think is the hardest part of it all, but I also think that’s the most fun part because when there’s that much pressure on you, there is no room for error. It’s kind of like a high.”

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In addition to being editor of Hicksville News and Massapequa Observer, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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