By Josie Lavender , Amanda Schwengel
Watching Lee Kiefer, a 27-year-old medical student, become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in individual foil fencing sent Ernie Heyman on a trip down memory lane.
Some 56 years ago, Olympic fencer Istvan “The Maestro” Danosi ignited Heyman’s passion for fencing, ultimately leading to Heyman’s distinguished 42-year career as an affiliate faculty member teaching Fencing in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Human Performance and Sport.
“Great coaches are great motivators,” said Heyman, who turns 78 in August, recalling Danosi, his coach on the 1965 Wayne State University fencing team. Born in Hungary, Danosi led his country to a gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games before fleeing Communist rule in 1956. He coached fencing at Wayne State from 1958 through 1982, winning five NCAA fencing championships. Heyman said he was deeply impacted by Danosi and that he modeled his own coaching style on the fencing legend’s passion for the sport and commitment to students.
“I don’t just tell them what to do; I lead the exercises,” said Heyman. The sport, he said, is about striving for excellence, and you don’t have to be athletic to reap its benefits.
“I particularly enjoy working with students who don’t have a sports background,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge of bringing an athlete out of a nonathlete.”
Heyman, like Danosi, has cultivated strong friendships with his students, having laughed and learned alongside them for more than four decades. MSU Denver Communications alum Dave Joecks has remained close friends with his fencing mentor since taking his class in 2011.
“I geared up my senior year to be kind of fluffy. I just needed extracurricular credits,” Joecks confessed. “I wish I had a more noble cause for signing up for Fencing, but I’m happy I did. The professors (at MSU Denver) care so much. I remained close friends with Ernie, and after taking his class, I ended up joining a fencing salon here in Denver and getting my official fencing ranking.”
Human Performance and Sport courses such as Fencing can benefit non-HPS majors by fulfilling extracurricular requirements. Faculty and staff members can apply the Employee Tuition Benefit toward Heyman’s fall course, which will be offered from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Heyman said the life lessons that fencing facilitates are invaluable. He recalled a student who reached out to tell him how fencing helped her find self-confidence when she was the victim of a road-rage incident. The student told Heyman that prior to taking his fencing course, she wouldn’t have stood up for herself and her rights. In her eyes, that newfound inner strength is what fencing is about.
"I am just teaching things The Maestro taught me,” Heyman said. “Simply put I love teaching and I love fencing."
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