Visions of success

Eyesight is something people take for granted, or at least that's what Catherine Hutchins has come to believe.

The junior in the College of Arts & Sciences has been learning to live with deteriorating vision since she was 11 years old. However, since she was 18, her vision has gotten considerably worse. Hutchins, president of Marquette's Classical Fencing Society Scuola d'Arma, has had to learn how to fence without the comfort of good depth perception and failing peripheral vision. In addition to being part of the fencing society, Hutchins teaches fencing lessons.

"I basically had to figure out a different way for me to fence than (the way) everybody else does," Hutchins said. "I have to really approach it differently than most of the other fencers. A lot of it is relying on sensations, senses other than my eyes."

Hutchins' instructors, Alexis La Joie and Sean Newton, have helped her compensate for the challenge her poor vision has posed.

"I've taken her through a slightly different training regiment so she can use her sense of touch," La Joie said.

Since Hutchins cannot depend on her eyes to fence, she practices the "sentiment-de-fer" method of fencing — she relies on the feeling of her opponent's blade against hers.

"It's kind of hard to pick up, and usually they reserve it for advanced fencers, but I began kind of teaching myself to do it before I really knew what it was," she said. "And (La Joie and Newton) really started instructing me and guiding me in it. Largely I have to depend on touch to figure out where my opponent is in relation to me."

Hutchins may have had to work a little harder than other fencers but doesn't feel at a disadvantage.

"No, no I kick a lot of butt," she said. "Actually, I think it puts me at an advantage because I think people rely on their eyes in general too much."

La Joie said the experience has helped Hutchins learn something about herself.

"Just knowing Catherine, I think she's always been this person who has risen to challenges and learned about herself," he said.

Hutchins echoed La Joie's thoughts. "It's definitely gone beyond fencing," she said. "It taught me a lesson that it's OK to figure out ways to do things differently. I've changed a lot of things. I walk differently and walk down stairs differently."

Hutchins has learned to deal with the challenge, said her mother, Molly Hutchins.

"She's learned in her own way to live with it and cope with it."

Catherine said learning how to do things with her eyesight was, and continues to be, an accomplishment. She also said learning that she enjoys being a teacher has been an accomplishment.

"It was always something that I kind of knew I wanted to do, but I was always forced into a business direction and was doing fencing and teaching," she said. "Fencing really gave me the extra 'oomph' to decide to pursue a teaching career."

Hutchins began her college career in the College of Business Administration at the urging of her father, Don Hutchins.

"My dad had this whole thing with my brother and I that you have to be in business," Hutchins said. "When I was 10, I got my first stock certificates. When I was 12, I got my first stock portfolio. I have an IRA — I'm 20 and I have an IRA. I didn't know any other 10-year-olds that watched the stock market every day."

Catherine said her father was convinced business was the only way for his children to make a decent living because that was his experience. The pressure made it difficult for Catherine to find her true love for teaching.

However, teaching, which runs in the Hutchins family, is a good fit for Catherine, Molly said. Catherine's great-grandmother on her father's side, her grandmother on Molly's side and her aunt were all teachers, and Molly works at a school herself.

Hutchins credits her high school teachers for influencing her decision to teach. "I had a lot of really really good influential high school English teachers, and I recognize the value of that," she said. "It took me coming to college to figure out that it was what I wanted to do with my life."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 24 2005.