As with many children, summer has looked a lot different this year for siblings Eleanor and Gavin McClung, who have not been allowed to visit public pools, attend large gatherings of friends or go on vacation far from home.

Fortunately, the Upper Arlington sister and brother, 8 and 14, respectively, have had at least one extracurricular activity their parents find safe: fencing.

Masks and gloves already are standard equipment for the sport, and some competitors have doubled up on masks, wearing a cotton one underneath the mesh fencing one because of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

And social distancing? That's less of a problem for athletes carrying nearly 4-foot-long sabers, epees and foils with the goal of stabbing anyone who comes near them.

"Innately, it's a little safer," said their mother, Becky McClung. "You're not in each others' faces all the time, and there are those natural barriers."

In fact, fencing might be one of the safest sports right now, a perk that many clubs across central Ohio and nationwide have touted on social media in recent weeks as they welcomed students back since reopening.

"Fencers try to keep away from each other," said Stan Prilutsky, head coach at Columbus Fencing & Fitness in Dublin, where the McClungs take lessons. "If you get too close, you're in trouble."

Even though the sport boasts built-in barriers to deter the spread of COVID-19 -- including that it only involves two athletes -- Isabel Alvarez has reopened Profencing in Lewis Center cautiously, following protocols recommended by USA Fencing, the sport's governing body.

"I have an immune-deficiency problem," she said. "Staying in business, staying well and not getting sick, has been a big effort."

Finances became tight after nonessential businesses were shut down in the spring, and a slow rebound since it reopened for private lessons has put the academy in jeopardy of shutting its doors for good, Alvarez said. A small Paycheck Protection Program loan and some generous parents who continued paying their children's fees even when the business was closed have helped her weather the storm so far, she said.

Anyone entering Alvarez's building has been asked to wear a cotton mask, even while fencing, and students have not been allowed to store their equipment at the facility. She has taught students how to sanitize their suits -- something they should do anyway -- and they have stopped ceremonial handshakes, following USA Fencing rule changes.

Thus far, Alvarez said, she had seen about half her regular students, and many of her summer camps with community centers have been canceled. However, she still planned a few small camps, starting this month. She said she hoped to begin offering introductory classes for new students and small-group sessions soon.

"It's safe to do fencing, and it's good because the kids need an activity," Alvarez said. "It challenges the mind and body."

One of her students, Elise Lemasters of Delaware, who generally prefers bouts with friends and at tournaments, couldn't wait for her first private class with Alvarez upon returning to the club.

"In the car, I told my dad how excited I was, and I typically don't like having lessons, but I was looking forward to it," said the 12-year-old, who was ranked as the No. 1 female fencer in Ohio under 13.

Parents at Profencing shared that excitement. Heather Besselman, a mom of four, said she and her two sons who fence, especially 10-year-old Noah, were thrilled when Profencing opened again.

"Noah needed activity," said Besselman of Delaware. "It was time, and they're taking precautions all across the board."

Her children had not been many places, but she said they are safe fencing.

"They're fully geared up and the chance of saliva going through their mask then through another mask and onto their opponent is slim," she said.

Although wearing two masks is "weird," Noah said, it's now "normal."

Normal is what many of Prilutsky's students have craved these past few months. About 75% of his 150 or so students were back taking regular private lessons.

Although he acknowledged he and other instructors saw some benefits to teaching virtual lessons on Zoom -- which focused on technique and footwork -- he was glad to have students back in his 8,000-square-foot facility that boasts 19 fencing strips.

"One student was crying after her first bout because she was so excited to be back," Prilutsky said. "There's been an emotional response to getting back to the sport we love."

Gavin McClung said he was a bit nervous to come back because he felt out of shape after two months away from the club. But it didn't take long to fall into a rhythm with familiar faces around him.

"I've been excited, too," he said. "There are a lot of people here I haven't seen in a while."

award@dispatch.com

@AllisonAWard