Athletes from Lebron James to Donavan McNabb have described the "moment" they knew — that time, often at young age, when they realized they possessed the athletic gifts that could carry them to the professional ranks.
Dan Arnstein knew he wasn't one of those kids.
"I'm a really, really awful athlete," said Arnstein, a 20-year-old junior at Haverford College. "I really like sports; they just don't come natural to me."
After a childhood in the Bronx, N.Y., playing pickup basketball but failing to make the cut on any team, he turned his attention to fencing, where he was able to outthink his opponents by using his carefully honed strategy and skill. Now a leader on the Haverford College squad, Arnstein — and especially his teammates — are glad he made that decision.
Arnstein was recently selected as an Academic All-Star by The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Area Sports Information Directors Association, for his superb fencing and 3.99 grade-point average.
"There have been times where I've had to pick between studying as much as I want for a test and going to practice," admitted Arnstein, a psychology major, who notes that the strict schedule actually helps him manage his time better and leads to his exemplary scores.
In the 2006-07 season, the fencing team went undefeated in the Middle Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association, winning the conference championship. The win is a significant feat, especially for a small liberal-arts school like Haverford, which often goes up against large universities like Penn State or Ohio State with considerably more students from which to mine fencing talent.
While fencing is certainly an individual sport, Arnstein gets particularly excited to see his teammates go up against players from other schools. "You have nine guys fencing nine guys," he said. "If you have one unbelievable guy, that doesn't make up for the other eight."
Although he admits that his athletic prowess leaves something to be desired, Arnstein works vigorously in the gym, as well as trying to hone the speed necessary to score points with the sword. While some may thin it has do with quick arms, Arnstein says that it's all in the legs.
"You have to be able to accelerate quickly, cover long distances and change direction quickly," he said.
His best personal moment came in the 2007 NCAA regional individual competition, when he beat Ben Igoe, who, at the time, was ranked fifth in national points among saber fencers overall, not just among collegiate athletes.
"I feel like I can retire from fencing happy after that," said Arnstein. "I can't really top that one."