As 15-year-olds go, Southport-resident and Fairfield Ludlowe student Drew Salko has accomplished a lot.
Salko is ranked No. 34 at sabre in the United States in the Y14 age group and traveled to Poland for the 2010 Youth World Cup in Wroclaw, finishing eighth and top sabre in the United States.
Salko was the only Connecticut-resident to qualify for the World Cup abroad. The United States was one of 180 countries represented at the tournament. The 10-grader at Ludlowe competed in 47 tournaments a year ago at various fencing clubs around the United States.
He has only 18 months of competitive experience, but through hard work and training he's become one of the fastest rising sabres in the nation. Salko commutes to the city three weekdays per week to train at Manhattan Fencing Club under the tutelage of Yury Gelman and the private training of Andrew Lamainski.
Salko also continues to compete at MFC on weekends. This commitment to fencing, in his mind, will culminate in a trip to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
"That's the goal," he said.
Salko got into fencing from an after-school program at Dwight Elementary School in third grade. However, he did not engage in the sport fully until a trip to a fencing camp in 2008 at Cornell University.
"I knew that he would come home either hating it or loving," Drew's mom, Teddie said. "He came home loving it."
The rest has been history. Drew has quickly climbed the ladder of talented sabres, favoring the sabres because they're a faster and more fun weapon rather than the epee or foil.
"It is more athletic," he said. "It's at a faster pace."
On the way to his Olympic dream, Salko has developed a myriad life lessons, especially in commuting. His success in traveling from Southport or Fairfield to New York allows him the ability to learn time management skills that many 15-year-olds do not have to.
"It was hard in the beginning," he said. "But now that I've figured out how to do homework in school or on the train, it isn't so bad."
Salko comes from a competitive family, as he is the cousin of Bucknell University and former Fairfield Prep star lacrosse player Chase Bailey. Compounded by that is that Salko is the youngest of a wide array of cousins ranging from 15-30 that are all competitive, which makes him both more talented and stronger mentally.
"It's made me better," Drew said.
He also has had the opportunity to connect and meet people from all over the United States and world by fencing. He has made many different friends and also overcome language and cultural barriers by connecting and overcoming those walls.
"I've figured out how to communicate with a language barrier," Drew said. "I only speak English and a little French."
Salko has also gained focus and insight into his future life besides just competing in the Olympics. His goal is to go to New York University and study business. He wants somewhere in New York so he can continue to train at Gelman's fencing club.
All the while, the travel has been Salko's favorite experience. He and his mom intend to do more of it abroad this year too, as he moves up an age group as a Cadet (U16).
"I love to travel," he said.
With the goal of Rio driving his focus, Salko intends to keep this pace up.
"I'm not just doing it just to do it," he said. "If I say to myself `I have to do this to get to the
Olympics' it makes it easier to do."