THE months leading up to a wedding can be a tense time for any young couple.
Squabbling over the guest list, choosing a band, agonising over whether powder blue or lilac ribbon is more suitable for the favours; the potential for dispute is endless. Why, then, deepen the dissidence by indulging in an unorthodox approach to spending quality time together?
Jennifer McMillan laughs, acknowledging the conjugal eccentricities particular to her relationship with fiance Glenn Sancroft, one which has occasionally become strained as their April wedding nears. Attacking each other with swords does little to maintain matrimonial harmony, after all.
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Lest the authorities become exercised, it should be explained that the couple are members of Glasgow's Salle Rollo Fencing Club. McMillan, ranked No.2 in Scotland in the sabre class, and Sancroft, a bronze medallist in the same discipline at the 2010 Commonwealth Championships, often find themselves on the piste together during training sessions, where one misjudged thrust can ignite days of discord. "We solve a few domestic disputes and cause a few as well," McMillan says, grinning. "But we just have to get through the next few months without killing each other.
"There have been times during matches when one or both of us has just taken off our masks and said 'hang on, we can't continue' and there's been cross words said when we're on piste before. There have been times, too, when we've had to say 'right I need to fence with other people' and take a break from it."
As a means of nurturing nuptial bliss, it might be unusual but sparring with Sancroft and other male members of the club has only helped advance McMillan's career. Last weekend, the 25-year-old won the sabre class at the Scottish Open – "that was my reward for training over Christmas while other people were letting themselves go" – and will travel to London for the Beazley Cup later this month in buoyant mood having risen to 10th place in the British rankings.
Her aim for the coming campaign, though, is to make an impression on the European circuit, having had a taste of continental competition last season when she took part in World Cup events in Bologna and Antalya. The problem, as ever, is funding, with the trip to Turkey only possible thanks to a last-minute, half-board package holiday deal to a resort a mile down the road from the venue.
"Having a sponsor would make such a difference but I'm not just looking for a handout; I'd want to give something back, be it doing team-building or business days with fencing," says McMillan, who estimates it costs her around £10,000 per annum to fund her career and has designed a variety of enticing packages for prospective investors. "I'm a Scottish athlete, based in Scotland, and would be a great asset for a company and for the sport here because if I get more experience I can bring it back here and try to help other young fencers."
As a project executive with the government-backed Sporting Chance initiative, which aims to develop the sports economy in Scotland, McMillan appreciates the wider value her own contribution can have, but she is keen, too, to repay the investment her coaches have made in her over the past seven years.
The Denny-based Glaswegian was 18 when she was belatedly introduced to fencing by older brother Alan, who ran a club at Strathclyde University, and was soon in thrall to the sport. "There's nothing like hitting someone with a bit of metal to make you feel better," she says. "Actually, I had kind of fallen away from sport after leaving school and working for a year and I'd put on weight but I was determined that I didn't want to start university feeling like I was fat."
At that stage, fencing was nothing more than a means of staying in shape and an outlet for her competitive instincts but a three-month hiatus with a pulled hamstring made her realise how much she enjoyed it and began to consider where the sport might take her. The weakness of the women's events in Scotland, coupled with her natural athleticism, had already enabled her to emerge as a prominent figure on the student scene but by then she was hungry for more. "I had a chat with my coach and he asked where I wanted to go, so I asked him if making the national team was realistic and he said he could have me there within a year. Turned out he was right."
Given that it was also because of that same coach, David Rollo, that she met her fiance at a competition in Aberdeen, it is little wonder McMillan is so effusive in her praise. Now she just has to make sure that his insightful tutoring does not cause a more lasting domestic disagreement ahead of the wedding.