Kay Sze is eager to make her point. And not just with the tip of her sword, either.
The 23-year-old épée fencer who trains in Vancouver has taken the road that most dedicated athletes travel en route to a national final showdown - thrusting herself into the impervious ring and jabbing past a skilled opponent.
As the two-time defending B.C. champion and 2012 national silver medallist, Sze is within sword's reach of her goal - to compete internationally for Canada.
It's getting to that next step which will be the true test of her mettle.
For someone who didn't pick up the sport until the age of 11 in her native Hong Kong, Sze, who now lives in Coquitlam, quickly filled in the blanks and built up a fairly impressive resume as a teenager.
"I was fairly energetic so I actually registered for basketball, volleyball and fencing but I wasn't good at everything," Sze recalls. "I was just being energetic. The basketball and volleyball teams just thought I was fat and short so they didn't pick me. So I stayed (with fencing).
"I was average, not so bad to start."
Starting late proved to be less an obstacle than a motivation. After trading her foil for the heavier épée sword, she rose up the Hong Kong charts and peaked as a member of the national cadet team.
The sport of fencing - one of the traditional Olympic sports - incorporates three separate disciplines: foil, sabre and épée.
The épée is the heavier thin sword, and in its event the participants have full range to target the opponent. Any hit with the tip, on any part of the body, scores a point.
In 2005, her biggest challenge came when the family immigrated to Canada, where the language barrier and new culture caused Sze to lay down her sword.
"Those three years were for myself to adapt to this country. How to buy milk at McDonalds, how to say a sentence - is the sentence from an English book in Hong Kong good enough? Would the same sentence be too formal here?
"I stopped fencing for three years when I came here because I couldn't speak English," she says. "I was just too scared to reach out to the clubs. When I saw my old teammates going to competitions, I cried."
Once the Centennial Secondary student had her feet on the ground and felt comfortable with her surroundings, she returned to the sport - and discovered her skills with the épée were not totally rusty.
"At least I had my footwork. Why beginners say they cannot fence well is because their footwork can't support them in doing what they want. I have the basics that way, so I can develop easily. It's like blank paper, what my coach teaches me I learn."
That steely attention has been a boon to her clubmates, says fellow provincial champion Chad Linton.
"Kay's spirit and passion for fencing just makes everyone work harder at the club, it's contagious," says Linton. "Her spirit is what makes her such a tough competitor, and her passion is what drives her to work so hard."
A member of the Jericho-based Vancouver Theatrical and Modern Fencing and Simon Fraser University Fencing clubs, Sze has pushed herself through four years of biological engineering courses along while practicing her sport.
At times, the two focuses have worked in unison, requiring extreme discipline and dedication. When studies were tedious, fencing provided some relief. When practice got tiring, her school work provided an escape.
Waiting to find an opponent’s weakness has its similarities to producing equipment to help people. Being assertive is just part of the skills one has to master — patience and innovation are crucial, too. Her engineering studies have her designing specialized instruments used by people with disabilities.
"Suddenly you feel special in some way, there are some really interesting biomedical devices, making a prototype by yourself. Things you have to build from nothing to something," she says.
Entering her fifth year of studies, Sze enjoys the process of creating something out of a basic concept - like building on an Olympic dream.
At the provincials in June, the B.C. Fencing Association eagerly welcomed the participation of Canadian Olympians preparing for London. Sze ended up facing Canadian pentathlete Melanie McCann - who would go on to finish 11th in London a few months later - in the provincial final.
"I did some research on her to calm myself. I think she wanted to gain some experience and that's why she came to the fencing provincials, and we met in the final. I think the BCFA prepared some good gifts for her, they had red wine and some nice pins for the champion - things they didn't have the past two years - and I think I broke their plan. I got the wine."
In the national final in Saskatoon last May, a strong start put the five-foot-seven Sze in line for the gold. However, some nerves and a polished rally by her opponent ended up earning the SFU student the silver.
"I had fenced with her before in the pool and won,” she recalls. “With the first seven points I was ahead. She then made some changes, she thought this wasn't working. I tried to change but it didn't work and I lost at the end."
Coach Bac Tau, who coached the Finnish fencing team and previously served as the head coach of the B.C. Fencing Association, feels Sze has the potential to go even further.
"In my opinion as her coach, if she trains hard, is disciplined and committed, makes sacrifices and is ambitious, she can potentially be the best lady fencer in Canada and on the International Fencing championship scene," Tau wrote in an e-mail.
And there's the rub, according to Sze.
Her goal is to reach the top and to represent her country - the question is how to carve out her own path to do it. There are two routes that could take her to a position on the Canada national team - and possibly 2016 to Rio de Janiero.
One is to stick it out at home, attending the three annual national championships and the North American Cup at a minimum cost of $500 each - and keep striving to earn recognition and support from the Canadian Fencing Federation. It is the road most travelled for Canadians seeking advancement.
The other option could be just as costly, but would skirt much of the inner politics of the national fencing body.
Sze could follow in the footsteps of Canadian national team member and World Cup champion Sherraine Schalm and put her talent to the test on the International Fencing Federation tour in Europe before gaining her spot on the national side. If she can succeed there, opportunities at home should follow. She is currently leaning towards the latter.
"My ultimate goal is the world championships and Olympics," remarks Sze. "These days everyone puts Olympics in their dreams, but I have another thought about Olympics. It's kind of a commercial thing to me. Every year there is a world championship - the same athletes who go to Olympics.
"For me, to get to the worlds would be incredible. The world champions are amazing."