By Paul D. Bowker | Feb. 02, 2017, 12:52 p.m. (ET)
Nicole Ross celebrates her semifinal win against Arianna Errigo of Italy at the FIE Foil World Cup on Nov. 5, 2016 in St-Maur, France.

Fencing has become fun again for Nicole Ross.

No question about it.

She has medaled in every international event she has competed in during the 2016-17 season. She has defeated the world’s top-ranked fencer, Arianna Errigo of Italy.

She is ranked among the top 10 women’s foil fencers in the world and openly talking of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

She is coaching younger fencing athletes as an assistant coach at Cornell, working alongside close friend and former Team USA fencer Daria Schneider.

There is a bounce in her step and a smile on her face.

“For me, I feel like it’s a mindset,” said Ross, whose next world cup competition is Feb. 2-3 in Gdansk, Poland. “I definitely feel like my technical training is in a really good place in the sense that I have a really good relationship with my training partners and my coach. I understand what I’m doing and why, and I feel like I have a strong partnership with the people who are helping me.”

That circle of people includes two-time Olympian Soren Thompson, who has worked out with Ross since they were on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team together.

“He has totally changed my life and my fencing career,” Ross said. “I am in huge debt to him. He’s a big inspiration and a mentor to me, as well.”

And with her resurgence in the sport, Ross realizes her Olympic window might still be open.

“I truly live to compete at the Olympic Games. There’s really no greater achievement or goal in our sport,” said Ross, adding she is not yet 100 percent committed toward Tokyo yet but “it definitely is where my mind is going now.”

Since last year, there truly has been a transformation in Ross’s game. And in her life. After failing to make the U.S. Olympic Team in 2016, Ross thought deeply about leaving the sport.

“I think I just felt the weight of the whole four years (leading up to the Rio Games), and the situation, on my shoulders,” she said. “I always want to be doing something that’s providing me joy, that’s like a positive driving force on my life. I think not making the Olympic team, having to watch all of my teammates go through that, is a very humbling experience.”

Then, somewhere along the line, in the middle of all those retirement thoughts, Ross found her joy again.

“I kept training because I actually really love fencing,” she said, laughing softly. “Just doing it is fun. I had an opportunity to train a little bit entering that first (world cup) competition. It went really well.”

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Indeed, it went really well. She won her first career medal, a bronze, in the season-opening world cup in October in Cancun, Mexico. She also joined two-time Olympian Lee Kiefer, Youth Olympic Games gold medalist Sabrina Massialas and Margaret Lu to win the team silver medal.

In November in St-Maur, France, she won a silver medal in the individual tournament and a bronze medal in the team competition. In December in a grand prix tournament in Torino, Italy, Ross won another silver medal in the individual competition, losing only to Kiefer in the title match. It was the first time two U.S. women foil fencers had finished one-two in a grand prix tournament.

Now Kiefer is seeded second in the upcoming world cup tourney in Gdansk, and Ross is sixth.

Somehow, Ross is balancing her world cup competitions and training with the new world of assistant coaching at Cornell in Ithaca in upstate New York. There, she is reunited with Schneider, a world bronze medalist in women’s saber who was Ross’ college teammate at Columbia in New York and is now head coach at Cornell.

“What’s great about it is we came into working together already feeling comfortable pushing each other and challenging each other and always trying to be better,” Schneider said.

“It is so special and neat,” added Ross. “I feel truly lucky that this opportunity came my way. We’re great friends.”

The journey toward Cornell began when Ross and Thompson worked with the fencing team during a clinic. It wasn’t long before Ross, a program coordinator for Win4Youth, was at Cornell as a coach.

“It was really just a beautiful experience,” Ross said. “Students were so receptive and nice and smart. The campus was amazing. Everyone was really welcoming of us.”

In addition to Thompson, Ross credits New York-based coach Simon Gershon and USA Fencing women’s foil coach Buckie Leach for her achievements.

“I’m lucky to have a really strong foundation with (Leach) and relationship with him, and I also credit him with any success that I’ve had recently,” Ross said.

The entire path of the last year, going three-for-three in international tournaments, losing out on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team by one spot, the first-time coaching job, has brought everything into perspective for this 27-year-old fencer with Olympic memories and Olympic dreams.

“When you’re younger and you’re a kid and you’re doing it and you’re having good results and you’re training all the time, it’s fun,” Ross said. “But there’s also an element, you have to do it. I always felt like, ‘I have to do this, this is what I do.’ It felt less like a willing choice, although it was always something that brought me great joy and happiness.

“Now as an adult, and finally starting to achieve some of the things I want to achieve in my career as a fencer, I definitely have a real appreciation for how amazing the journey has been.”

And the journey is going strong.

“I think I’ve always known she was capable to have these kinds of results,” Schneider said. “And it’s just really great to see her having them this year.”

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990. He is Olympics editor and Assistant Sports Editor at the Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts. Bowker has written for since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.