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Outside the Law: Sue Borgos on Fencing, Success, and Self-Confidence

Which comes first: success or self-confidence?


The relationship between success and self-confidence is complex. How it unfolds within each of us can have wide-ranging implications for our lives and legal careers. The two are interconnected, which begs the question: in which direction?


For Sue Borgos, attorney, IT expert, and high-level, national fencing referee, the cyclical aspect of the relationship between achievement and belief cannot be isolated. Perhaps her confidence in fencing translated to her confidence as an attorney and IT expert, or vice versa. Either way, what Sue has accomplished both in fencing and the legal profession illustrate the invaluable skills she’s developed along the way.


The 1981: What other skills have you accrued through fencing that you leverage as an attorney, and vice versa?


Sue: Over time, I’ve gained more confidence – in fencing refereeing, in legal practice, and in other areas of my life. I’m not sure whether my confidence as an attorney or IT professional improved my confidence as a referee or whether my confidence as a referee improved my confidence as an attorney and IT professional.  I believe that my life experiences played off each other and worked together to develop my confidence all the way around.


The ability to defuse conflicts or calm people down and avoid confrontation is a skill I mostly learned through refereeing. In my job, I draft contracts and work with salespeople, engineers, and the folks who provide the services. Having that skill makes it easier to solve problems without creating tension between the various constituencies. I have leveraged my legal skills drafting corporate documents and sitting on non-profit boards, which has also carried over to the fencing community where I have held various local and regional offices, and where I am currently a member of the Referees Commission, as Ombudsman Chair.


The 1981: What got you into fencing originally, and specifically, into refereeing?


Sue: I was offered a fencing class my sophomore year of high school as an alternative to an overcrowded gym class.  It sounded interesting and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I fenced foil on the high school team and all through college.  Foil was the only weapon women could compete with at that time.  It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that women were allowed to compete in epee.


As a law student at CU Law, I didn’t initially feel like I had time to fence. I waited until my 3L spring semester to start fencing again.  I started fencing epee in addition to foil in the mid-1980s and focused only on epee starting in the early 1990s.  I stopped fencing when I found out I was pregnant with my son.  It happened to be my best year of competition ever – but I was happy to press pause on fencing to enjoy being a new mom.


After graduating from law school, I refereed at local fencing competitions to help finance my competition expenses. In Colorado, there was a referee shortage at the time, so we (especially the women) often had to referee our own pools in competitions. When I earned my referee license, I didn’t think it was anything I’d do long-term.


When my son turned 4, I got into refereeing more seriously, eventually working my way up the ranks in national tournaments. Today, I’m invited to referee national and regional tournaments frequently, which requires travel at least 2 weekends a month.

Sue as video referee, October NAC 2023

The 1981: In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception about fencing?


Sue: Some people think of it as a prissy sport that doesn’t require athleticism, but that is dead wrong. 


In college, my coach at Johns Hopkins told me that there was a study that researched the fittest athletes by sport. Football players were found to be the most in shape. I believe he said fencers were in the top three. I don’t know if it was entirely true, but it is plausible.  Fencing involves speed, precision, and endurance. Accuracy and timing are important but those who truly succeed also have the endurance to last through pools and direct elimination staying in constant motion during each bout without cramping or tiring.

Sue refereeing at a USA Fencing, national-level competition

The 1981: What is a favorite fencing story of yours that you’d like to share with CWBA members?


Sue: As a fencer, my favorite fencing story is what happened to me in the last two months that I fenced competitively.  For years I had a D classification, even though I consistently had second and third place finishes in epee at both local and regional competitions (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma). In fencing, there are 6 classifications – a U for unrated, and then E through A, where A is the highest classification.  The competitions regionally and locally were never large enough or had enough rated fencers to advance my rating.  At national tournaments I was, at best, middle of the pack in Division I, but I was climbing my way up in Division II.  In the next to last national competition of my career I fenced Division III on the first day of the competition and took second place to earn my C.  On the second day I took 3rd place in Division 2 to earn my B.  The following month I re-earned my B by taking 24th place in Division I, which also put me on the national points list.  At that point, I discovered I was two months pregnant, and I stopped competing.  So, you could say that I went out on a high note.  I don’t think I would have gotten much further.


As a referee, some of my best moments were the times I have refereed finals and semifinals of Division I competitions.  But I think the standout moment was when I was allowed to referee a Wheelchair World Cup.  I had a cousin with spina bifida who was wheelchair bound his whole life.  His mother, my aunt, made sure that he lived as normal a life as possible, and he lived his life doing all the things that able bodied people do. Wheelchair fencing gives me a closer connection to him.    I am also truly impressed with what elite wheelchair fencers can do.  Their hand speed and shoulder strength is amazing.  It’s a totally different game from able bodied fencing and it’s just as exciting.  I have refereed twice at the national level and when we had our first parafencing World Cup in this country last January, I was allowed to attend, take the class and the practical exam to get my international license.  I passed the epee test (didn’t do as well with the foil test) and was given referee assignments in epee the entire three days of the competition.  I really enjoyed being part of an international cadre and watching the high level of fencing in this international competition.  I hope that I will be able to do more.

The 1981: What is the main function of a fencing referee?


Sue: As a referee, job one is to make sure that you maintain a safe environment for competition.  Job two is to have the trust of the fencers that you will be fair and that you are skilled enough to make the right calls almost all the time.  I say almost because none of us is perfect.  As a referee, you want to not be a factor in who wins or loses a bout.  You know you’ve done your job well when your presence just blends in.  A pool or direct elimination round with no complaints generally means a job well done.  The icing on the cake is when the coaches and the fencers and the parents smile at you when they see you.


The 1981:  As a referee, how is mentorship involved within the sport of fencing


Sue: In the later bouts of a tournament (usually from the top 16 through the final) we have a referee who calls the action and we have a referee monitoring the action sitting by a computer screen to watch video replay as needed.  I really enjoy being the video referee working behind a less experienced referee because it’s an opportunity to mentor them and to give them challenging experiences with a safety net. I also enjoy being an assigner, assigning other strong referees to be a safety net for someone who is up and coming. I have had several referees let me know that I make them feel comfortable when they are out front and I am on video. I love watching these people develop and grow as referees.

Sue, when she passed her test to be an international wheelchair referee at aWheelchair Fencing World Cup in Washington, D.C. in January of 2023

CWBA members: Try something new & check out a local recreational fencing class today! For residents of the Denver metro area, here are a few options to consider:


Susan H. Borgos is a commercial / corporate attorney and information technology expert. She is a Senior Contracts Manager for Cognizant TriZetto Software Group, Inc. and is the owner of Office Technology Solutions, Inc., a managed services IT company.


Sue is an active member of the CWBA, serving on the Public Policy and Convention Committees. She also is a member of the CBA, DBA, and Senior Women Corporate Counsel (SWCC), and serves as a board member and chairperson of the Outreach and Public Affairs Committees for the Alliance of Professional Women. Finally, Sue is a member of Toastmasters International.


Sue is a former nationally ranked epee fencer, currently serves as Ombudsman Chair/Vice Chair of the Referees Commission, and is a licensed International Wheelchair epee referee. She spends at least two weekends a month during fencing season serving as a fencing referee at local, regional, and national fencing events.

286 views2 comments


What a great article. Proud to know you, Sue!


Dec 15, 2023

What a terrific story. Thanks for letting us know more about Sue!

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