Former Olympic fencer Sada Jacobson transitions to life as a Michigan law student
She had just won the silver medal fencing the saber in the Beijing Olympics in September 2008. It was her final competitive match. Since then, much has changed.
Start with her name. She is now Sada Jacobson BÃ¢by, having married former Penn State fencer Brendan BÃ¢by a year ago.
She traded weapons for law briefs. Her gymnasium became the classrooms of the University of Michigan Law School, where Jacobson BÃ¢by recently finished her second year of the three-year law program.
The 27-year-old has barely picked up a saber in the past two years except for occasional summer workouts with her younger sister, Emily, another former Olympic fencer who is training for the 2012 London Games.
She’s taken the same level and focus she once spent on fencing and now uses it to study constitutional law and work on litigation. Being a litigator, she said, fits her personality. Plus, in some ways, it gives her another chance to call on the competitive urges from her Olympic years.
“She’s competitive with herself,” BÃ¢by said. “I’ve never heard her talk about beating anybody else or saying she’s better than any of these people. She’s certainly competitive with herself and trying to do better. She works unbelievably hard. “I haven’t seen her in two months, basically.”
Even last Sunday, Jacobson BÃ¢by was working, finishing a paper after grabbing lunch with her husband.
Jacobson BÃ¢by’s transition has been smooth. If anything, law school allowed Jacobson more of a life than she had as undergraduate fencer and world traveler at Yale.
Her freshman year at Yale, she was simultaneously competing for the Bulldogs, on the U.S. national circuit, the international circuit, for the U.S. junior national team and the senior national team. It kept her on the road for 12 weekends in a row.
Then she took three semesters off midway through college to train for the 2004 Athens Olympics, where she took bronze in the individual saber. By the time she returned to Yale, her friends graduated. She moved off campus and focused on her degree.
Jacobson BÃ¢by followed that with three more years of intense training to prepare for Beijing.
So now, being situated the majority of the year in Ann Arbor - she’ll work for the second straight summer at the McKenna Long & Aldridge in her hometown of Atlanta - has given her more of the college experience.
“It’s fun to be able, when if your friends ask you if you’d be able to do something to say, ‘Yes, I can do that,’” Jacobson BÃ¢by said. “I still feel that I am working really hard and law school has a lot of demands that are comparable to fencing that you can’t always go out to that party and you can’t always go to see a movie in the middle of the week, things like that.
“But it’s much more flexible than fencing was, where you’d just be off in another country. At least I can find an hour here or there to visit and see people, even if I can’t be there for six hours. Like I’m still alive. I exist.”
For the majority of her teens and early 20s, she existed merely in the fencing world. It is where she met BÃ¢by. And when she needs her fix of fencing friends, she travels to watch Emily compete.
But mostly, Jacobson BÃ¢by lives an anonymous life. She said is rarely recognized in Ann Arbor, although at the beginning of law school people would hear her name in classes and associate her as an Olympian. Her medals - a bronze in team saber and silver in women's individual saber from 2008 and a bronze from the 2004 Athens Games in individual saber - are in a safe-deposit box and all she has is a small silver ring on her right ring finger with the five Olympic rings engraved in them - a gift given to athletes that competed in Beijing.
Plus, Jacobson BÃ¢by said, she has her memories.
She’s transitioned into law school life well, so much so, her professor in her religious liberty class last semester, Doug Laycock, said he had “no idea” she was an Olympian even after the semester ended.
And Jacobson BÃ¢by is OK with that.
“Now, it feels almost like a different lifetime to me at this point,” Jacobson said. “Now, it feels like I’ve been a law student and I’ve always been a law student.”
That feeling is why, halfway to the 2012 Games, Jacobson BÃ¢by laughed when asked if she’d return to fencing. The easy answer - no.
She said she’d been away from the sport too long, that her technical skills have eroded and that the Olympic portion of her life is closed.
Instead, she can go skiing in the winter, which she did for the first time since she was 13 years old this past winter at Boyne in Michigan and Mount Hood in Oregon. Before, she couldn’t because one knee injury would have derailed her Olympic dreams.
She now travels without her fencing bag - an initial unnatural feeling as her first real vacation with no fencing commitments came a year ago when Jacobson BÃ¢by and BÃ¢by went to Australia on their honeymoon.
“Am I done,” Jacobson BÃ¢by said. “Don’t tell my coach, because I think he’s still holding out hope, but I think I’m done. It was a great ride, and it just feels like it’s time to move on to something else.”
Like her career, her marriage and the rest of her life.