Athletes can find all kinds of ways to tap into their motivation in preparing for the Canada Games.

As Manitoba Fencing Association (MFA) Provincial Coach Ayach Bounachada looks ahead to 2023 in PEI, he remembers one athlete’s unique motivation behind making the podium.

In 2007, Gillian Turnbull was determined to make it to the Canada Games. Ayach pointed out she would have to take her training to the next level if she wanted to get there.

“She went home and the next few days, when she came back, she told me, ‘You know what? I have to tell you something. If I start training and make a medal, can you do something for me?’ And I go, ‘What do I do?’ [She said], ‘You have to shave your beard,’” Ayach laughed.

He asked her why.

“‘Because you told me something, and I have to push you to the limit.’”

With competitions in other provinces looking strong, Gillian started training very seriously.

At the Games, she began by losing three bouts and winning two. After that, it was a direct elimination – you won, you kept going. You lost, you were out.

“At first bout in the top eight, she won,” said Ayach.

If she won the next one, she’d be fencing for gold.

“And she went to fence against the strongest Ontarian athlete… and she beat her,” said Ayach.

In the final, Gillian captured gold, beating out Quebec and standing out among the top fencers across the country.

She harnessed her drive to get better, making a light-hearted competition with Ayach along the way, and she achieved her ultimate goal.

Celebrating her victory, she approached the head referee and told him all about what her and Ayach had agreed to.

“What he did, he called all the referees, he attached me on the chair, and shaved me. This was the story. And it was even in the news!” said Ayach.


Fencing in PEI

Fencing will make a return to the Canada Games this upcoming February after its last appearance in 2013.

A total of six fencers, a male and female from each weapon category, will compete for Team Manitoba at the Eastlink Centre during week two in PEI.

There will be six different competitions, including team events. But the team events will be a whole new challenge.

“In the previous Games, the team was fenced by weapon. You have a weapon, you have three fencers,” said Ayach. “But this time, the six fencers from different weapons, fence as a team.”

How do the fencers prepare for the team component?

“Regarding the team event, they cannot train together, because they are different weapons. What we do during our camps, during our training, we simulate a team competition. We make two teams compound with six fencers, and the other team six fencers, from different weapons, and they fence in an event.”

Ayach added it’s too bad they can’t compete outside the province with this type of team competition.

“It doesn’t exist. We use it only at the Games.”



Daria Jorquera-Palmer has been selected as the Head Coach for Team Toba fencing, with Zach Allard as the Team Manager.

“Regarding fencing training, this group started preparing for games last year,” said Ayach.

“They train twice a week, plus [a] minimum [of] six camps a year, and we try to have all the athletes at least twice a month together. We made it mandatory outside the weekly training.”

This time together provides a key chance for the athletes to meet with the coaches and ask questions.

Since they started last season, they also have at least 25-30 sessions of strength training with Sport Manitoba Performance and have been able to incorporate nutrition sessions.


Opportunities Post Games

Going to the Canada Games is a huge opportunity, and for some athletes, it’s the summit of their careers in sport.

But there’s certainly paths to take after the Games, too.

“The oldest [athlete on our team] is 15 years old. So when they finish, I have minimum three athletes who can run for the national Canadian team, junior in the future, even senior,” said Ayach.

The thing about Games, Ayach said, is that it can be a foundation to keep fencing at the really high level.

“Some people finish [as a] Pan American champion, some athletes finish sixth in the world, 10th in the world, 12th in the world. All of them did Canada Games. This is why we’re really excited with these Games, because the future will be really bright for us.”

Follow Team Toba and Discover More

Catch the behind-the-scenes on Team Toba’s journey to PEI and follow the Herd on social media @teamtoba on Instagram@TeamToba on Twitter and Team Manitoba on Facebook.

To learn more about fencing in Manitoba, visit the MFA website and check out their list of clubs. You can also follow them on Instagram and Facebook.