Luca Nicoletti, 13, of Los Altos, won the gold medal in his age category at the USA Fencing Summer Nationals in Minneapolis this month, finishing his season as the top-ranked fencer nationally in the Y12 category.
Nicoletti has won six gold medals this season and 18 medals in the last year.
"I was really happy because it reflects all the hard work and all the consistency I've been doing and it just shows that hard work beats talent because talent doesn't work hard," Nicoletti said about his win in Minneapolis.
Before he left the Bay Area for the tournament, Nicoletti counseled himself to stay calm and keep the competition in perspective.
"This may seem like a really, really big tournament now," Nicoletti said, "But what would it look like in five years? It'll just look like something in the past, so 'take it one step at a time' is what I thought, and stay calm."
Nicoletti also credits his win with being strategic about his opponent, who had beaten him in a previous bout.
"I studied his techniques, and I was like, 'he's going to do this, these are his favorite things to do, and here's how I can counteract them and score on his favorite moves,' which is how I ended up winning 15-7."
Nicoletti is now back in Los Altos, preparing for his first international fencing competition in Lima, Peru. He is one of six fencers chosen from his age category to represent the U.S. at the Pan American Games later this year.
Nicoletti doesn't come from a family of fencers. The seed was first planted more than four years ago while watching movies with his family.
"I was watching 'Pirates of the Caribbean' with my family, and I was like whoa! That looks really cool! They're just fighting each other with swords," Nicoletti said. "Then my dad told me that they actually made a sport out of this. And I was like, seriously? You could just stab people and get medals for it?"
Nicoletti's father didn't know much about fencing and had to learn about this sport along with his son.
"I stumbled across a fencing studio when I was walking around, and just seeing them fence reminded me of the movies we'd been watching. That was the beginning of the whole thing," Tony Nicoletti said. "His journey is as much mine, because I had to go to his classes just to understand what was going on, how the points are scored, and things like that."
Luca Nicoletti credits his fencing coach, a daily meal of bacon and eggs, his family, and especially his father with his success.
"I fence with him whenever I don't have class. We suit up and then we fence, so that definitely helps on off days to keep my consistency going," Nicoletti said.
As of now, Nicoletti isn't sure if he wants to be a professional fencer. He's trying to enjoy middle school, not miss too many hangouts with friends, and see where the sport takes him. In the meantime, he encourages other kids his age to try out the sport.
"It's an amazing sport all around because no matter how tall you are, no matter whatever, you have all these different techniques and all these different options. You can find what's right for you and roll with that. All the people at a really high level -- none of them look the same. There are tall guys, short guys, and they all have their own fencing style and I would highly recommend fencing for anyone who wants to try it."