In honor of International Women’s Day, MPG is proud to introduce our Fearless Females series featuring gutsy women who inspire us every day with their confidence, ambition and determined spirits. With the common thread of fitness, health and wellness playing an important role in their personal journeys, the series will shine a spotlight on females from all walks of life and levels of notoriety who are living life in the fast lane and doing it with a fearless attitude.
Monica Aksamit is a name you may not recognize at first, but it’s one that you shouldn’t forget. An American saber fencer who took home the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio – she is the definition of passion and perseverance.
Born and raised in NYC and now residing in Brooklyn, the elite athlete has her sights set on competing at the highest level once again at this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. However, the road ahead is still uncertain and it’s not her undeniable talent, sheer determination or personal sacrifice that’s standing in the way. Rather, Monica still needs to secure the finances to fund her dream and that is no small task.
Passion & Persistence
A first-generation American, both of her parents immigrated from Poland in search of the American dream, working very hard to make ends meet. With this, Monica spent some of her younger years living in Poland with her grandparents as her parents worked to get ahead. Watching her parents struggle to provide a better life for their daughter, Monica learned the importance of never giving up on your dreams, despite the challenges you encounter.
She first discovered her love for fencing at the age of eight.
“I fell in love with it immediately. Hard not to when they hand you a sword and tell you to hit another kid, at that age it’s all we ever want to do as kids, right?”
It was clear that her natural talent and innate competitive spirit could take her far in the sport. And despite her humble upbringing, Monica did just that. Armed with a support network by her side, she rose to the top of her sport, thanks in large part to a few key figures that never stopped believing in her.
“My grandpa in Poland is my biggest cheerleader and supporter. He’s always believed in me. My coach Yury Gelman is also one of my biggest supporters. We’ve been working together for about 15 years now. He took a chance on me and has been pushing me ever since. My mom is my biggest inspiration. She came to this country and left her entire family back home. She finished college here and she’s now a business owner. She battled cancer as well. She’s the strongest person that I know.”
To stay at the top of her game, Monica follows a demanding routine of high-intensity workouts, nonstop training and constant competitions. There is no doubt that her life revolves around fencing and this grueling schedule can present an array of physical and mental challenges. Yet, the hardest challenge she’s faced to date is funding her dream.
Monica earns money by coaching fencing classes, giving private lessons and refereeing competitions. Alongside working for her mom’s cleaning service when she’s not at her training center, Monica also models and does small advertising jobs when opportunities arise. But working all these jobs, on top of her intense training schedule, still doesn’t come close to funding her Olympic dreams on her own.
And so, she realized that she would need to reach out to others for help, calling upon her fans and the kindness of strangers to help raise the vital funds she needs to reach her ultimate goal. Monica even started a GoFundMe campaign, which she says isn’t uncommon amongst other athletes in niche sports like fencing, taekwondo and judo.
“The financial aspect has probably been the biggest challenge. My parents are immigrants and have never been wealthy. This made it difficult to afford training, travel and equipment. I’ve had to swallow my pride and fundraise to be able to travel in hopes of qualifying for the Rio Olympics and now as well for the Tokyo Olympics.”
We often forget that Olympic dreams aren’t paid for in sweat and tears alone and her situation represents a reality that many other pro athletes face, especially in disciplines that aren’t as popular in North America as other parts of the word.
Recently, she has had to face yet another uncertainty on the road to her dream with the global spread of Coronavirus. With the Summer Olympics set to kick off in just a matter of months, this international health scare has cast a shadow of doubt over if it will still take place.
Yet, despite this potential setback, Monica remains laser-focused on her training schedule and unswayed by the situation.
“What happens is out of my hands and I’m training regardless!”
When asked what she hopes to accomplish in the years ahead, her selfless response was indicative of the strong-willed and determined female she is, noting that she wishes to be an advocate for fencing while raising awareness on the financial hardships that many young elite athletes in her sport find themselves up against.
“I hope to be able to make fencing a more popular sport and raise awareness to the issue that Olympians don’t receive nearly enough funding. I’ve been able to make huge steps, but I still have a long way to go on both of those goals!”
The world should take note of this fierce woman who is determined to reach her dreams, despite many obstacles. And anyone who dares to challenge her should be “on guard” as this fearless female is a force to be reckoned with who won’t take no for an answer.
“On the good days and on the bad days, I always work for the same goal. The same dream. No matter what the outcome, I couldn’t have made it this far without the love and support from my friends, family and every single person who has played a role in supporting me.”
Get To Know Monica In 10 Questions
Q – What has been the most interesting opportunity you’ve received as a result of fencing?
A – I’ve had many incredible opportunities, from travel to meeting my closest friends but I would have to say that filming my No7 (the UK’s number one skincare brand) commercial was by far my favorite opportunity. We filmed it in a marble quarry in Italy, the crew was amazing, and the final product was absolutely incredible.
Q – You’re constantly on the go. Where can you be found when you need to unwind?
A – At the park or beach with my dogs. Being in nature and seeing them so happy helps recharge my batteries.
Q – What has been your favorite travel destination so far and why?
A – I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to 34 countries, so picking one isn’t very easy. But I would say that Greece is one place I want to return to and explore more. I’ve only been to Athens, but it was incredible and the photos of all the islands are breathtaking. Hoping to be able to do some island hopping someday!
Q – Everyone has a guilty pleasure or two, tell us yours.
A – I’d have to say that Trader Joe’s chocolate covered bananas are something I find myself reaching for whenever I have a sugar craving.
Q – With your busy travel schedule, how do you stay on track with your fitness and nutrition while on the road?
A – I travel with healthy snacks as well as protein powder. I eat very healthy when I’m at home so when I travel, I have stomach problems almost immediately. I try to combat this by bringing my own food and avoiding eating at restaurants as much as possible. I also travel with resistance bands and ankle weights which I can use to workout even when I am away from home.
Q – Why do you love wearing MPG for your everyday routine?
A – Having fun workout outfits helps motivate me to hit the gym, so I think that’s a huge help.
Q – What are your favorite MPG pieces from the new Spring ‘20 collection?
A – It’s really hard to pick a favorite because I love everything I’ve worn so far but I would say all the leggings, especially the Infinity & Rebounder leggings, if I had to choose. Not only do they look cool, they’re made from ultra-comfortable material and I never find myself having to pull them up like I constantly do with my other leggings.
Q – What is your favorite workout trend as of lately?
A – I recently went to a dance workout class and it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing a workout.
Q – Top 3 pump-up songs currently on your training playlist?
• Paid My Dues by NF
• On Top by Flume
• Roll in Peace by Kodak Black
Q – What advice would you give to your 10 yr old self?
A – There’s so much advice I would give myself. The biggest one would probably be to not take what people say so personally. I would always get very upset whenever I would hear a rumor or negative comment about myself. Luckily, I’ve become less sensitive to that and just laugh it off now.