Siobhan Byrne, Management Consultant and Olympic Fencer

Hi, my name is Siobhan Byrne, and I work as a Management Consultant for Ernst & Young specializing in the Health Sector. Currently, I serve as the Americas Health Advisory PMO Leader. I grew up in Germany and lived there until I was 20. I was recruited by The Ohio State University on an athletic scholarship to join their fencing team after secondary school. I spent 7 years in Columbus, Ohio, pursuing my Bachelor and Master degrees, as well as my goal of becoming an Olympic fencer. After completing my Master of Health Administration, I was recruited by EY to join them in New York City as a consultant. I have been in NYC ever since.

I have always been drawn to Healthcare, but I never wanted to become a hands-on practitioner. I therefore decided to study the business side of Health. I enjoy consulting for various reasons: work is project based, I get to work with many different clients and teams, I get to travel, and it keeps me on my toes. In my spare time I am a multi-passionate individual: Olympian, Fitness enthusiast, Reiki Practitioner, Intuitive Consultant, Fashionista, and World explorer.

Fencing is the best sport – of course, I am biased. It has so many layers to it and is called “Chess on Legs” for a reason. It is also a sport that requires not only physical speed, but also the speed of thought and decision-making. It is elegant but combative at the same time, and it is one of the original Olympic sports, which gives it some rich history.

I picked up fencing when I was 7 years old. I was looking for a sport or hobby to get involved with at that time and tried many different activities such as athletics, football, and ballet, among others. None of them really captured my attention the way fencing did when I first tried it. It very much fit my personality of wanting to perfect a skill and apply strategic thinking while also being competitive.

Like any other sport, we trained to stay agile and fit with speed training, weight lifting, and cardio-vascular training. But more specifically, we perfect our technique with our coaches in one-on-one lessons. These lessons focus on technique and repetition. It is crucial for actions to be internalized to a degree where you react without having to think about it. Fencing is such a fast sport, that if one has to think about the action in the moment, then it is too late…it is all about reaction time and reflexes. On top of that, bouting or sparring with teammates and bout analysis are important parts of our training.

My usual routine was 3-5 hours per day consisting of a 30-45 minute lesson with my coach, 30 – 60 minutes of fencing specific footwork / technique practice, and 1-2 hours of sparring. I actually have not trained since I hung up my sabre about 9 years ago. It is only recently that I feel like I might want to pick it back up for fun. Training for fun was not something that would have been possible right after stepping off the circuit. It takes some distance and a shift in mind-set.

Fencing has changed my life tremendously. I started fencing when I was 7 years old and started competing internationally at the age of 14. Through fencing, I was able to travel the world, compete at an elite level, move to the US on an athletic scholarship, and become an Olympian.

The skills learned as an elite athlete are definitely transferrable to business, and I think it actually sets us apart in the workforce. Studies show that 94% of females in the C-Suite in the US were athletes. Athletes develop or already possess skills that set them apart: Confidence in being able to perform, unwavering focus, competitiveness, leadership, teaming, and, most importantly, resilience.

Competing in the Olympics is very different than any other competition; I think especially so the first time for an athlete. Competing in a sport that normally gets zero attention, and then all of a sudden having everyone’s eyes on you, because you are on the World stage at the Olympics, is a different level of pressure I was not used to. On the one hand it was fun to do the media interviews and photo shoots, but on the other hand it added an extra layer of pressure.

Of course it was also extremely exciting to be able to compete at this level with top athletes from all over the world in all Olympic sports. There is literally nothing like it. I have absolutely considered coaching fencing. I think I would particularly enjoy coaching young kids. That is definitely something that is in my future when the time is right.

I think that new fencers, or any athlete, should keep a broader perspective and to see the bigger picture and enjoy the process. Fencing, as well as any sport that provides the opportunity to be competitive at an international and elite level, comes with so many great experiences and opportunities that can change the direction of your life. Looking back, I think I sometimes was too focused on achieving a goal that I forgot to enjoy myself and have fun throughout the process. Hindsight is always 20/20.

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