The fencing champion is pursuing a parallel career as an aerospace engineer. In her spare time, she also writes picture books for children. Life has taught her – a determined woman – to adapt.
Astrid Guyart has learned to face up to difficult challenges – in life and in fencing. As a fencing champion who has won many medals, she has been recovering from knee surgery since November 2018. At 36, she remains as determined as ever to participate in the May 2019 qualifying tournaments that will select the French team to take part in the Tokyo Olympics next year. “Adaptability is the key to a high-level career,” says Astrid Guyart.
Back in 2007, following a hip injury that prevented her from performing a conventional fencing attack, doctors gave her a choice between two options: stop competing to maintain her health, or completely overhaul her approach to the sport.
“I chose the second option so I could pursue my dream of competing in the Olympics,” she says. “Learning the new technique enabled me to improve my game and move up a level. The new technique has now become my special move, the one my opponents fear. It is almost Darwinian: what enables you to survive at one point is what ultimately makes you stronger.”
Astrid Guyart started fencing very early, at age five, when she began accompanying her big brother Brice, who is also a fencing champion, to the Le Vésinet club on the outskirts of Paris once a week. At about the same time, Astrid discovered her other passion: space.
“The creation of the universe, the Big Bang theory, fascinated me,” she says, and today she is still starry-eyed when speaking about it. Immediately after high school she therefore enrolled in both the INSEP Escrime fencing school and an aerospace engineering school in Sceaux, west of Paris. “A lot of people at the time told me I needed to choose one or the other, but I have learned that it is important to stay the course and always believe in what you are doing,” she says.
And she demonstrably succeeded: Astrid Guyart became a foil fencing champion and also joined EADS in 2006, Airbus in 2013 and finally the Ariane Group in late 2016. Having started out in the preliminary design office, she was appointed head of the materials and processes laboratory developing new space technologies in 2016.
“There will always be people telling you that what you want to do is not possible. It is important to stay the course and believe in your dreams.”
Does she take the same approach to fencing and aerospace engineering? “I am the same person in both fields, and so I naturally apply the qualities I developed in high-level sports to my professional activities,” she says. “Being able to work with the best (in sports, you cannot succeed by yourself), remain open-minded and curious (in sports, you have to be constantly seeking new techniques and methods) and concentrate are important both in sports and at work, when you are at a meeting, in a negotiation or making a presentation to a client. In all these cases, you need to be focused on the present.”
In April 2019, Astrid Guyart took leave from ArianeGroup to devote herself full-time to preparing for the summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. The event is a crucial milestone in her sports career, but that doesn’t keep her from continuing to actively take part in the Athletes’ Committee chaired by Martin Fourcade, which is preparing and organising the 2024 Games in Paris.
“Right now we are working on the design of the Olympic village. The work is very instructive. I am dealing with subjects I am not used to tackling,” she says enthusiastically. “We don’t always realise it, but actually we all have multiple skills.”
Virtues of failure
Astrid Guyart intends to pursue another of her skills, which she discovered in 2016: writing picture books for children. “I wanted to give my niece a book about sports. But I couldn’t find one that could fire a child’s enthusiasm for stories about the subject – so I decided to write one for her. That ended up starting the “Les Incroyables Rencontres de Jo” series, in which the hero, Jo (the name stands for Olympics in French), meets a future grand champion,” she explains. Le Cherche Midi published the first three picture books in March 2017, with “Jo, Haut Perché” on the pole vault, “Le Face-à-face de Jo”, on fencing and “Le Rebond de Jo”, on basketball. Another book was added to the series in April 2018 (“Le Coup de Main de Jo”, on handball) and a fifth is planned for October 2019.
In writing, as in sports and in her professional life, Astrid has learned from her successes and also from her failures. “Victory confirms a step forward. Failure forces you to ask yourself: “How can I do better? What does this setback have to teach me?” Being dissatisfied pushes you to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It accelerates your progress,” says Astrid, an insatiable competitor.