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March 1, 2000

Lifestyle - Wall Street's Top Blade: En Garde! ECN Official Ready to Fence with Wall Street Big S

By Sanford Wexler

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  • Lifestyle - Wall Street's Top Blade: En Garde! ECN Official Ready to Fence with Wall Street Big S

Matthew Andresen, the combative president of Island ECN, knows all about plunging a sword into the competition. And he makes no apologies.

While working as a commodities trader for Lehman Brothers, Andresen, who's 29, was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic fencing team during the 1996 Atlanta games. Fencing demands quick thinking and maneuvering. Those are the same skills needed in buying and selling futures. The game moves so fast that touches are scored electronically - more like Star Wars than Errol Flynn.

Andresen, who was born on the U.S. Marine base at Paris Island and raised in Chapel Hill, N.C., became interested in fencing by coincidence. One day while he was taking a stroll by the gymnasium at the University of North Carolina (UNC), he noticed two fencers engaged in a fierce match. He was about 13.

"I thought that looked pretty cool," recalled Andresen in an interview. "I told my dad that I'd like to play the sport."

"So my dad called up the fencing coach at UNC and asked if there is any way for a kid to learn how to fence," added the Wall Street executive, a trim man just over 6 foot tall, who runs the Island ECN out of offices in lower Manhattan. (The electronic communications network is 85 percent owned by Datek Online Holdings Corp.).

Soon, young Andresen was spending his after-school hours learning the ins and outs of fencing at a UNC-sponsored fencing club.

Only a Lark

At first, Andresen said he "was only playing the sport as a lark. As an adolescent boy it seemed kind of cool to hit people hard with a metal sword." But when a fencing coach from France arrived at UNC to nurture future Olympic fencing champions, Andresen became totally immersed in the highly competitive, one-on-one combative sport.

"He started making me work hard," Andresen said. "The first day I hated it. But I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. That hard work paved the way for me to become really good at fencing."

While most teens are attracted to team sports like baseball and football, Andresen found fencing appealing because he said it was truly an individual sport. "It's one-on-one," he said. "I like being able to count on only myself. And not share the blame and not share the glory with anyone else."

Andresen noted that fencing is a lot like boxing. While on a national fencing team he sparred with his fencing teammates as a way to perfect his reflexes. "Boxing was the best cross-training for fencing," he said.

From afar, fencing appears to be an incredibly dangerous sport. But Andresen said it's on the same level as basketball. "You get tons of bruises and sore ribs," he said. "I had surgery on my left knee three times. But that's the kind of normal joint injuries that you get from playing any high-impact sport."