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A Rare Trio Indeed: Fencing Triplets In Chicago

By Justin Breen | December 17, 2012 6:26am

HYDE PARK — Teenage triplets Charlie, Nathaniel and Willa Green have their mother to thank for their fencing careers.

The University of Chicago Laboratory School seniors tried playing soccer as children. But their mom, Grace Dodier, didn't understand the game or like sitting outside in the cold.

"They all needed a sport. I needed some simplicity in my life," said Dodier, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law downtown. "We tried soccer, and it didn't work for me. And we tried fencing, and it worked for everyone."

The Greens said they spend as many as 14 hours a week honing their craft, either in practice or at various tournaments. That doesn't include lugging hundreds of pounds of equipment several times each year for national events.

The triplets — 18 and born five minutes apart, Willa, Charlie, then Nathaniel — play for U-High, which is a short walk from their Hyde Park home. They also travel to Lincoln Park to compete at the Windy City Fencing Club.

"It was definitely the sport that clicked for us," Nathaniel said.

The Greens are not the only triplets currently fencing in the country, said Nicole Jomantas, the communications manager for USA Fencing. Searching a database of 25,000 registered USA Fencing members, Jomantas found at least three other set of triplets but could not provide an exact count. Jomantas said the Greens are the only triplets from Illinois.

Still, the unusual trio turn heads. Says Charlie, who real name is Charlotte: "People always think it's cool that we're triplets."

Charlie and Nathaniel started fencing in fourth grade at the Windy City Fencing Club, 1535 N. Dayton St., where Dodier knew the owner through a friend. Willa joined her swashbuckling siblings four years later.

"I saw them having fun and I got interested," Willa said.

Interviewed together, the fraternal triplets had a healthy argument over who was the best fencer of the bunch.

Nathaniel, who is ranked as a "Class B" fencer — the top ranking is "Class A" — said he was No. 1. Charlie, who's a "Class C" competitor, countered that she frequently beats her brother in practice. Willa, who's not ranked, didn't want to get in the middle.

"We fight, but I think we fight less than the average group of siblings," Nathaniel said. "I think we kind of have to be that way. For reasons of diplomacy, you have to not fight."

The trio said fencing has taught them how to deal with losing, manage their time and stay in great shape.

"It's been a very positive thing," said their father, Dr. William Green, a professor at the University of Chicago Department of Neurobiology. "They've also met a lot of new people outside of the Lab School environment."

The Greens' high school coach, Bakhyt Abdikulov, said they are organized and consistently provide advice and support to teammates.

Their club coach, Tzanko Hantov, said Nathaniel and Charlie are more aggressive fencers, while Willa displays calmness. He added the triplets are "very self controlled," which helps them focus during competitions.

"That's kind of a gift for them," said Hantov, a Sauganash resident who competed for Bulgaria in the 2000 Olympics in the Modern Pentathlon.

The triplets all plan to fence in college and have selected potential schools based on whether they had fencing teams.

"What's great is I think they'll continue to fence throughout their lives," their mom said.