Former Israeli national champion teaches fencing in Camas

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Fencing instructor Julia Tikhanova instructs her young students earlier this month at Lacamas Lake Lodge in Camas. (Photos by Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

What’s your superpower?

Camas resident Julia Tikhanova enjoys asking that question to her students, because she credits fencing — a skill she considers to be a superpower — for nearly everything good that’s happened in her life.

Tikhanova currently teaches fencing classes for the city of Camas and the Camas School District. She launched the popular classes about a year ago after moving to Camas with her husband from Charlotte, North Carolina. Tikhanova and her family have travelled an exceptionally long, but exciting road to Camas.

From the U.S.S.R to Israel to U.S.

Big moves are nothing new to Tikhanova.

Tikhanova, who was born in the former Soviet Union, immigrated with her family to Israel when she was a young girl. When she was 9 years old, she followed her father’s advice and learned how to fence.

After years of hard work, Tikhanova earned a spot on Israel’s national fencing team and eventually became a two-time national champion. Her reputation as a top athlete proved to be an advantage when she joined the Israeli military, a mandatory obligation for all citizens.

“I served in the military two years, and since I was an athlete on the national fencing team, I was allowed to go and practice every day and travel to international tournaments,” Tikhanova said.

Tikhanova’s fencing ability attracted the attention of Ohio State University, and she completed her military service, she moved to Columbus, Ohio. The talented fencer quickly became an all-American, and her team won the national championship in 2008.

While in Columbus, she met her husband, who was also a finance major and a member of the Buckeyes’ fencing team. After Tikhanova’s student visa expired, she knew she wanted to become a United States citizen and was able to stay thanks to a special program in the U.S. Army.

“It allowed immigrants with good backgrounds to join the military,” she said. “I was trained as a behavioral health specialist and ended up serving with a special forces unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

After her second stint of military service, Tikhanova married and moved to Charlotte, where she and her husband took jobs in the financial services industry and started a family before moving to Camas two years ago.

Passionate about sharing fencing secrets

Raising a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl is a full-time job for the 35-year-old Tikhanova, who took a break from the financial services industry after moving to Camas. It wasn’t long before she approached the city of Camas Parks and Recreation about starting fencing classes for children between the ages of 7 and 14. The eight-week course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Lacamas Lake Lodge.

Tikhanova also teaches fencing for the Camas School District on Thursdays and at Orion Fencing in Vancouver on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“Everything good that has happened to me in my life is all because of fencing,” Tikhanova said.

“It started with becoming an athlete and committing to something and being successful and learning how to work hard and achieve things in life.”

Ashley Kang has quickly become one of Tikhanova’s top students. The 14-year-old Kang, a freshman at Camas High School, tried volleyball and basketball, but prefers fencing.

“I feel like fencing is graceful,” said Kang, who hopes to earn a college scholarship with her fencing skills. “It’s not like everyone hitting you in the face with their elbows.”

The perfect age to start fencing, according to Tikhanova, is 7, because the concentration and focus that are needed to fence are difficult for most kids younger than 7.

Micheal Shreeve lives a few doors down from Tikhanova, who convinced him to have his 7-year-old son Theodore sign up for fencing classes.

“He’s really a shy kid, so it’s been really great to have him in a unique sport,” Shreeve said. “I mean, it’s sword fighting. What kid doesn’t like sword fighting?”