COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nicole Glon’s passion for fencing began as a little girl, when she‘d go with her father to fencing practices and competitions at Penn State. She’d look at the fencers and dream big.
“I always dreamed when I was younger, ‘Oh, that’s going to be me someday,’ Glon says.
Indeed, the vision came true. Glon’s father, Wieslaw or “Wes”, was an assistant coach when Nicole was following him to Penn State practices.Wes Glon is now in his 28th year at Penn State and he is interim head coach for the Nittany Lions, who are contending for their 13th national team title at the NCAA Fencing Championships.
It isn’t difficult to find Wes Glon at Ohio State’s French Field House, the venue for the national championships. Whenever Nicole was in a women’s sabre bout, Wes would stand off to one side of the competition strip in the coaching area. A good point would earn an excited slap of his hands together. A loss would result in a stare.
Nicole won 16 of her 23 bouts over two days, so the hand slaps certainly outweighed the silent stares. She fell just one win short of making the semifinals, but her fifth-place finish resulted in a third consecutive All-America honor for Glon. Those victories also earned precious points for Penn State in its chase after defending champion Princeton for the national title.
The Nittany Lions trail Princeton by just one point entering the start of men’s competition Saturday.
The fifth-place finish was Glon’s best in four NCAA-championship appearances.
“Looking back over the four years, this is definitely my best year,” she said. “This is the year I’ve trained the hardest. Not that I didn’t train hard in my last four years. This year I think I’ve been the most focused.”
“A great career,” Wes Glon said of Nicole’s four years at Penn State.
Nicole the daughter will be glad to hear that from the man who not only coached her at Penn State, but coached her at world championships and other international tournaments. Wes Glon was a U.S. Olympic fencing coach for the 1992 and '96 Olympic Games.
But underneath all that is a father and a daughter, a coach and a student. And it is not always an easy relationship to figure out.
“I know a number of coaches who coach their own kids and it’s very hard,” Wes Glon said. “And I experience the same thing. It’s very hard because it’s a very fine line. If you’re a bit too excited, they take it differently than other people. If you’re too mellow, then they think you don’t care.”
It is an emotional line that Nicole has tried to walk, as well.
“I try not to look at him as dad. I think that was my problem when I was younger,” Nicole said. “I was mixing up the lines, like a blurred line. Now I like to think of him [as] in the gym he’s my coach.
Sometimes I’ll react and there’s this reaction that I can't help: ‘Oh, dad.’ Just like any other kid with their dad, they react.”
There are certainly reactions. Nicole is just as passionate about fencing as her dad. With every point she wins, there is a quick pump of her fist and a shout. Between points, her eyes will meet with her dad’s, oops, coach’s, eyes.
“Over the years, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve worked on. And I’ve tried to disconnect that,” Nicole said. “Here [in the gym], you’re my coach. He’s excited and he’s just trying to tell me what to do.
When I leave [the gym], like right now, he’s my dad.”
And when the action gets intense, as it often does at the national championships, you’ll catch Nicole and her father speaking to each other in Polish. Sometimes loudly. That is a part of their relationship, whether it is dad and daughter, or coach and student.
“That’s still coach and student,” Nicole said. “Sometimes it’s easier for me to talk to him in Polish because I’ve been used to it my whole life.”
Both of Nicole’s parents were born in Poland and then moved to the United States, settling in State College, Pa., nearly 30 years ago.
When Nicole has competed in international tournaments in Europe, they have visited family in Poland.
Nicole Glon was team captain for Penn State’s women’s squad this year.
While she joked with her father about going to Notre Dame or Ohio State during her high school years, Nicole bleeds Penn State blue. She has lived in State College her entire life. There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for a teammate.
“The thing about our team is we are a family,” she said. “I could call anyone on my team, no matter if we talk every day or if we talk once in awhile at practice, I know they’d be there and I know they would help me out or support me.”