Twenty-five years ago, Nancy Philippine and her husband packed their bags and headed west. West from France. West to California. To live the California dream. And now, 25 years later, their twin boys, Matthias and Thibault are experiencing the American dream, fencing their way to the top.
The boys, recently 15 and sophomores in high school, followed in their older brother’s footsteps, and entered the fencing scene at age 9.
"We tried it for a little bit," Nancy said. "They liked it, but it wasn't really what they were enjoying at the time. So we stopped. They started again in sixth grade and here we are now, a little older."
A little older and a little more accomplished. Last year, at the age of 14, both boys were ranked as two of the top ten fencers in the nation. This year, breaking into a new age group of 15- to 17-year-olds, the twins are already ranked 27, Thibault, and 34, Matthias, in epee, the fiercest style of fencing. Epee involves hits to the entire body but only with the tip of the blade.
Matthias and Thibault train ten hours a week, fencing two hours a night with their clubmates, and once weekly against each other.
"We always push each other and we're actually very competitive," said Thibault. "I don't want him to get any better than me. We always try to get past each other."
When preparing for tournaments, the twins add nine hours weekly to their training.
"It provides good discipline," Nancy said. "When you go fence for two hours at night, it means the homework has to be done or you have more to do when you get back. It’s a lot of discipline and makes everything work."
Being twins, the two look alike and seem to feed off of each other. Finishing each other's sentences seems to be a frequent occurrence, but Matthias and Thibault have never been confirmed as identical twins.
"We never tried to figure that part out," Nancy said. "They look a lot alike, and they have a lot of things in common, but they also do a lot of things that are very different. We consider them each individuals. We don't really want to know that type of twin thing. They are really individuals to us."
And outside of fencing, that seems to be the case. One has a girlfriend, while the other does not. Thibault plans to pursue a math or science oriented career, while Matthias is contemplating following in his parents' footsteps and entering the computer world.
But none of that matters when the two step into the piste for a bout, awaiting the attack of their opponent. What matters are their goals, what they work toward with every single move of the blade.
"The holy grail of fencing would be the Olympics one day," Matthias said. "But I think it’s a lot more reasonable for us to make the US team for fencing."
The United States has two teams for fencing, one for under the age of 16 and one for under the age of 19. Both of which the brothers qualify for. To make these teams, fencers must score enough points at tournaments during the season to land within the top four nationally at season's end.
The boys spent the summer in France, where they are considered "Americans" but are now back in California where they are considered "Frenchies."
"A lot of our friends think it's very stereotypical that we fence because we're French," Matthias said.
The twins are currently training for a local tournament in two weeks, but their main focus is their first national meet in October. Matthias and Thibault train alongside nationally ranked fencer Keith Lichten.