A part-time shop worker is swapping the cut and thrust of retail to compete at the Under-20 Commonwealth Games.
Stephanie Phennah, 17, who works at Marks and Spencer at Eagles Meadow in Wrexham, will be representing Wales in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and is aiming to compete at the Olympics.
The former Ysgol Rhosnesni pupil, took up the sport aged eight and is now the top sabre fencer in Wales and a member of the U17 Great British Team.
But representing Great Britain on the international stage comes at a price and Stephanie and her mum, Lynn, are in desperate need of financial help if she is to achieve her Olympic dream.
Stephanie, who is studying A Level History, English Literature and Media at Coleg Cambria, trains four to five times a week on top of private coaching sessions and has to endure gruelling conditioning sessions to ensure she is in tip-top condition.
Her part-time job at the M&S store also helps fund her sporting ambitions.
She said: “My job at M&S is fantastic and George Lees, the store manager, is really supportive. I get extra shifts when they are available and he allows my mum to cover any Sundays I can’t work if I am away competing.
“My job is a massive help as it helps fund my fencing. But what I need now is a sponsor to help me. Some of my fellow Welsh team mates have sponsors and carry their names and logos on their jackets, track suits and outfits.
“We have to basically pay for everything ourselves, there is no funding available as the money fencing used to get from British Sport has been slashed. Fencing has always been seen as something of an elitist sport and if you weren’t wealthy you couldn’t compete.
“We have shown how that is wrong and a young Wrexham girl really can compete on the world stage and could do even better with some financial support.”
Steph also represents Wales as part of the Under 17, Under 20 and senior teams and says being chosen to represent Wales at the Under 20 Commonwealth Games in Newcastle in July is a huge honour.
She said: “I have had to be dedicated and work really hard but I have an amazing coach in Mike Evans-Jones who has really helped me develop and taken me to the next level.
“My target is to be selected for the senior GB team and achieve good results in the European and World Championships and eventually Olympic glory. I also want to study Law at University once my A-levels are out of the way.
“I loved competing and just want to keep improving and proving that, when it comes to my sport, you don’t have to be rich to be successful.”
Steph’s mum, Lynn, who has worked for M&S for 34 years and now works in the Eagles Meadow store’s Food Hall, says she is extremely grateful for the support the family receives from M&S and manager George Lees when it comes to helping her daughter reach her sporting goals.
She said: “Having a job at M&S, even one day a week, helps Steph and George does help by giving her extra hours when he can. She normally works Sunday’s but if she is away competing then he allows me to cover her shift which is such a help.
“We couldn’t afford to pay for the fencing camps abroad without it. But we now have to look at trying to find a sponsor.
“Steph started fencing aged eight mainly because it gave her something to do on a Friday evening. But is turned out she was a natural and she was soon winning competitions.
“She was selected for Wales aged 13 and came home with a bronze medal from the Sainsbury’s School Games in Manchester. She then went on to represent Wales in numerous competitions right up to senior level.
“But in 2016 she suffered a really bad knee injury which left her unable to compete for six months and meant she tumbled right down the ranking tables. Then she started working with her coach Mike Evans-Jones, training and working at her technique four nights a week.
“She went onto win two senior open competitions and only lost out at the British Championship final in Sheffield by a single point. However, she became number one for her age group and she remains British number two today.”
She added: “Steph has represented Great Britain at a tournament in Budapest where she came up against some of the very best fencers in Europe. She also competed for Great Britain in Germany in December of last year and at Vienna in January.
“That’s led to her being selected for the Junior and Cadet Commonwealth Games which will be held in Newcastle later this year.
She said: “We are all so proud of Steph but she does need some financial help. For example her masks cost £260 and each sabre is over £100. The breeches she has to wear are £280 then there are lames, chest protectors, gloves, plastron jackets and other equipment to buy.
“And entry to each competition has to be paid by the fencer themselves. There simply isn’t any money available from British or Wales Fencing. Of course we dream of Olympic glory but for Steph to get there she needs help.”
M&S manager George Lees is proud of what Steph has achieved and is backing her to go all the way with here fencing.
He said: “Steph is certainly focused and dedicated and doing everything she can to reach the sporting pinnacle. We try and help where possible and give her extra shifts as and when we can.
“I think the fact she is proving you don’t have to be a rich kid to compete at the very highest level is inspiring.”
He added: “I’m sure she will continue to improve and become a real champion in the years ahead. I’d like to think that we at M&S Eagles Meadow have played a small part in helping her achieve her sporting ambitions.”
Eagles Meadow Kevin Critchley, manager wishes her well for the future.
He said: “Steph’s is a remarkable story and shows what dedication, talent and hard work can achieve. I hope to see her go on and compete at the European and world championships and eventually the Olympics.
“It never ceases to amaze me how many talented people work within Eagles Meadow stores, restaurants and leisure outlets. It really is remarkable and goes to show just how many talented people live and work in Wrexham.”
For sponsorship enquiries please e-mail Steph’s coach at firstname.lastname@example.org