Annika Santos: the fencer, the academic, and the human

Annika+Santos%3A+the+fencer%2C+the+academic%2C+and+the+human

A girl who is a world championship-caliber fencer, nationally and internationally ranked, an All-American and All-Academic fencer, and prides herself on being “incognito,” is on her way to one of the most populated cities in the world to fence for a renowned school with over 30,000 students. Once a Forest Hills Central Ranger and soon to be a New York University Violet, senior Annika Santos has thrived behind the scenes.

“I feel as if my whole high school experience has been lived in incognito mode because I haven’t received a great deal of recognition from my peers for my fencing accolades,” Annika said, “and I have traveled to a bunch of different places to compete, so I am just grateful for all of the opportunities thrown my way.” 

Although she hasn’t come home from her fencing tournaments to flowers being thrown at her or celebrations galore, a part of herself enjoys the discreet noise surrounding her sport, as her fencing accomplishments have flown under the radar. Since she doesn’t label herself as a bragger, the lack of vanity in fencing has never been the dealbreaker for her.

“If my friends are interested in talking about my fencing career, then of course I will talk about it with them, but again, I will only talk about it if they actually are curious,” Annika noted. “I am more into the strategy aspect of fencing rather than the popularity factor of it.”

Her wisdom and humility are traits her mother Joyce instilled in her at a young age, as well as ones her Grand Rapids Fencing Academy coach, Mikhail Sarkisov, instilled in her on 4 A.M. phone calls. These characteristics are the foundational ingredients in her fencing and academic endeavors that have made her Annika and not just another fencer with a foil in their hand. 

“Ever since I was a freshman, I wanted to make sure regret didn’t swallow me as a senior,” she explained. “In other words, I made sure I tried out every extracurricular activity you could think of. Whether it was Model UN or Science Olympiad, I showed up for every meeting ready to work.”

That appreciation for a balance between fencing and school drew her to the Big Apple’s hometown university, NYU. At NYU, Annika hopes to pursue a career in law, and she especially possesses an ambition to reach All-American fencing status.

“Some of the really nice fencing schools didn’t necessarily match my academic preferences or were known for having really big teams, meaning most fencers were on the bench and wouldn’t be able to compete in the NCAA, so NYU was a happy medium,” Annika described. “I was so impressed with NYU’s academic rigor.” 

Not only will Annika put on a fencing mask for NYU, but she will also put one on for the Philippine National Team, a team she has fenced for since she was 14. Balancing academics at a top fifty school in the nation and fencing for their NCAA program—not to mention the Philippine national team—is no small task for anyone. Regardless of how much she will have on her plate come August, Annika fully understands fencing is a deep-rooted life connection for her.  

“I know it definitely seems like way too much to handle from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know me, but I remember all the way back in March when I took a three-month break from fencing due to COVID,” Annika said. “Let’s just say it was one of the lowest points in my life.”

While the fencing realm has rewarded her with medals, trophies, and memories to cherish for the rest of her life, Annika does not have any inclination to take part in any serious competition past college.

“After someone wins a medal at the Olympics, most of them did what they set out to do: win an Olympic medal,” Annika stated. “Personally, I want to keep fencing after college on a more leisurely level so I can put more time into legitimately changing the world with my voice and platform.” 

In the end, Annika’s grueling, diverse schedule was the main engine to blaze a path towards her culminating commitment to NYU this year. Even though it seems as if she made it, she will still bring the same positive energy to NYU’s bustling urban campus that she brought to the corridors of FHC for the past four years.

“When people ask me how I juggle all of the activities I participate in, I always tell them I approach them in a fun way and not in a grudgingly mood,” Annika said. “I think that my interest in engaging in a wide variety of things will translate well to my next step in life at NYU.”