Sullivan, Molly

1985 National Women’s Foil Champion, 1985 National U-19 Champion, 2-time Olympian, 2-time NCAA Champion

Article from The Boston Sunday Globe, October 3, 1999

A champion passes torch

By Kerry Drohan, Globe Staff, 10/03/99

HAVERHILL – The fearsome Team USA fencer cried in Seoul when she saw the Olympic torch being lit. She was among the champions, this dyslexic little girl from Methuen whose spark for fencing and life was ignited in the kitchen of a Peabody fire station.

”It hit me then about the road I had taken to get to the Olympics,” said Molly Sullivan Sliney. ”For the first time, I realized how far I had come.”

Sullivan Sliney was 10 when she first picked up a foil and met fencing coach and retired Peabody firefighter Joe Pechinsky, ”an incredible man.”

”I’m dyslexic [a learning disability], and at that age I was in trouble. My self-esteem had dropped, and I was pulling away from the world. My father took me to see Joe at the fire station,” she recalled. ”In the kitchen, there was a blackboard, and Joe wrote my name and asked me if it was spelled right. Then he took a piece of chalk and transformed my name into a beautiful bird – a peacock.

”He looked at me and said, `If you believe in yourself, this is what you can become.’ I was thrilled.”

At 13, Sullivan Sliney made her first national team. She attended the University of Notre Dame on a fencing scholarship, got into the Guinness Book of World Records as the only woman to win two NCAA championships (1986 and 1988), was named the university’s athlete of the decade for the 1980s, and graduated with a degree in marketing. Then she won two team gold medals in the Pan American Games, and went to the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and to Barcelona in 1992.

At 33, Sullivan Sliney lives in the Bradford section of Haverhill with her husband, Keith, and has retired from competition, but she continues to add to her accomplishments. She is the mother of Michaela, 19 months, and Troy, 4 months, has a successful public speaking career, and runs youth fencing workshops in several communities, including Acton, Peabody, Andover, and North Andover, where she grew up. She has spoken at dozens of schools in the region, including Lawrence, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Lynn.

”She’s terrific with kids,” said Andy Goldman of Arlington, fencing coach at Boston University for the last 11 years and former longtime coach at Concord-Carlisle High School. ”She was an intense competitor and puts the same energy into teaching. She’s working hard to bring fencing to a lot of inner city kids to show them the sport. She’s made a great contribution.”

Goldman called Sullivan Sliney an ideal role model.

”Molly was one of the fiercest people I have ever met when she competed on the strip,” said Goldman. ”Very competitive. She went up against a lot of talented fencers and beat them because of her attitude: `I’m just not going to lose this bout.’ You could feel it.

”Off the strip, she’s one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet.”

Sullivan Sliney also wins high praise from Bill Hall, 64, of Acton, who is ranked third in the United States in Over-60 Sabre competition and has watched her ”grow up” in fencing.

”She has had a great influence on a lot of young fencers,” Hall said. ”Molly teaches a large number of programs and has been a real catalyst for the sport. I credit people like her for the popularity.”

While many people credit Sullivan Sliney, she praises Pechinsky, who has helped train five Olympians and still teaches fencing out of the Tanner City Fencers Club in Peabody.

”Joe is a wonderful man and just has a way of turning people on,” she said. ”He has opened more doors to fencing than anyone.

”Now it’s unbelievable,” she said. ”We used to have maybe 100 kids at competitions, now we have 300. We can’t keep up with it. In the youth programs and high schools, there are not enough instructors.”

Sullivan Sliney said she is pleased that her sport is attracting so much attention, especially from kids. She said she enjoys working with the high school program Kids In Crisis.

”Fencing brings positive things into their lives, and they need it so much now, with school and growing up and all the pressure and choices. I have seen fencing put something positive into their lives and give them self-respect. I know kids who might have dropped out of school without fencing in their lives.

”I know that feeling. For me, fencing was a way to express myself. And once I got the opportunity, things have come together.”

She said she expands on that theme in the motivational speeches she gives to students, business groups, and public service organizations.

”I tell them how fencing helps you set goals, helps you think for yourself. The same concepts apply to any part of life. Whatever level or age you are, fencing is not an end, it’s a beginning. You use it to create opportunity.

”I just tell them my story, basically.”

Sullivan Sliney sees even faster growth for fencing.

”It is exploding, and you will see more programs at the high school level when we get enough instructors. At the grassroots level, the opportunities are there now.”

Her programs are among the opportunities, and there is a bonus: a firsthand account of how a timid little girl with dyslexia became a national champion.

”Fencing can help when you are down and trying to put your life together,” she said. ”It helps you believe in yourself.”

This story ran on page 01 of the Boston Globe’s North Weekly on 10/03/99.

©Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

Article from The Salem News, September 24, 2007

Olympic Fencer Inspires Highlands Students

By Matthew K. Roy, Staff Writer, 0/24/07

DANVERS – Two-time Olympic fencer Molly Sullivan Sliney told Highlands Elementary School students that spelling used to be her worst nightmare.

Sliney, 41, has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it hard to read and spell.

At an all-school assembly Friday in the Highlands gym, she recalled a class spelling bee when she was in fourth grade. She had studied all week leading up to the bee on Friday. But it didn’t matter.¬† “The teacher gave me the easiest word on the list, and I got it wrong,” she said.

On the way back to her desk, she heard laughter and a classmate whispering that she was “too dumb to be in this class.”

At that moment, Sliney said, she had two choices: Ignore her classmates or believe what they said. “The day of the spelling bee, I made the wrong choice,” she said. “I started to believe what they said.”

Sliney traced her success | fencing in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, earning a full scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, and two gold medals at the Pan-American Games | back to a West Peabody Fire House and another moment when she made the right choice.

She was 10. And her father had noticed his daughter light up in a way he’d never seen before when she picked up a fencing foil for the first time. He drove her to Peabody to take lessons from Joe Peckinsky, a firefighter and self-taught fencing coach.

That first day, Sliney couldn’t look her coach in the eye. Peckinsky wrote her first name on a chalkboard. Then he used the letters to draw “the most amazing piece of art work.” It was a bird.

Sliney looked up at the chalkboard. “You can become this bird,” Peckinsky said. “Be anything. Do anything. Go anywhere you want.”

“When someone says something positive about you, you have two choices. One choice is to believe them. The other choice is to ignore them,” Sliney said. “That day in the fire station, I made the right choice.”

The choice filled her with self-esteem. It helped get her into college and sent her to competitions around the world. What fencing was for her could be another sport for you, she told students. It could be art or music.

Sliney spent all day at Highlands Elementary. After the assembly, she incorporated fencing moves during “thinking games” she played with the school’s individual grades.

“(Students) see an example of what a hero can be,” Principal Elizabeth Matthews said of Sliney’s visit. “She is a story of hope for some of our kids who probably can relate to her.”

The Parents Advisory Council helped bring Sliney to Highlands. “Hopefully, teachers can connect and reiterate the message in the classroom about setting goals and overcoming obstacles,” Jennifer Napolitano, the council’s cultural enrichment coordinator, said.

Sliney grew up in North Andover and lives now in Bradford. She likes talking to children because if she affects just one, then her job is done.

“My biggest accomplishment,” she told students, “is my ability to believe in myself, set goals and work toward those goals one step at a time.”

This story ran on page A3 of the Salem News on 9/24/07.

©Copyright 2007 Salem News.