WESTPORT—As a seven-year-old with her entire life in front of her, Delphine DeVore took an innocuous trip with her family to the movie theater. The motion picture she saw? Kung Fu Panda.

Usually not a movie that would spark a career path, the film left a lasting impression on DeVore.

“When I was in the movies I just remember watching and thinking, ‘wow this is awesome, I want to be able to do that,’” DeVore, now 15, recalls. “My dad found a karate place and we drove up and I remember saying, ‘it doesn’t say kung fu.’”

Without a proper kung fu studio anywhere nearby, the next attempt to appease the curious DeVore came in the form of fencing. The closest fencing facility at the time was in Danbury; she stepped right in and fell in love.

Flash forward almost eight years later, and DeVore is one of the top fencers at her age level in the entire country.

A great deal of the work DeVore has put in over the last six-plus years has culminated over the last month. She recently won the foil competition at the U17 Junior Olympic Games. DeVore was selected to participate in the Junior World Championships, which will take place April 3 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The competition brings the elite fencers -- the top three from each country to be exact -- from around the world.

“Winning (Junior Olympics) was a real breakthrough,” said DeVore. “I’ve been very close to winning lots of events; to finally win one like this was special.”

DeVore took top spot in a field of 212 fencers in a tournament held Feb. 17-20 in Kansas City, Missouri. The event was the culmination of the USA Fencing season, which began in July and determined the three qualifiers for the World Championships.

Last season DeVore finished fourth in the standings as a 14-year-old but made the cutoff competing against many athletes older than her.

What began as pursuing an interest quickly became a near full-time commitment. DeVore quickly reached the top of her class in Danbury and needed another facility to continue her path. She trains five-to-six hours per day at Fencers Club in Manhattan, one of the premier clubs in the country.

“Starting at such a young age, I just know the actions so much,” DeVore said. “The level of work is not what I was doing when I was eight or nine you just love the sport.”

With the number of hours devoted to the sport and the chaotic schedule of having to travel nationwide, and soon worldwide, to attend competitions, traditional school became a struggle. Though an honors student, DeVore received truancy letters from her school because of time missed. An alternative path was required; she now attends Indiana University High School and plans to take the SATs sometime in the next year.

“It’s good work,” DeVore said. “In regular school I didn’t have a passion because I felt like I was always catching up and worrying about grades. Now I’m able to learn things and study what I want. Teachers are supportive of me and a lot of my classmates are high-performing athletes.”

The skills of the foil art came relatively easy to DeVore. The mental part of the sport -- an underrated aspect that can be the difference between winning and losing -- was the more challenging portion.

“For me the biggest hurdle in fencing was the mental aspect,” DeVore explains. “When I used to lose to people; I might have been better just not as mentally strong. You spend 10-12 hours in a venue and only fencing about four of those. If you freak out over who you’re fencing, you’re probably not going to do as well.”

Every fencer dreams about competing at the Olympic Games, one of the few times the sport is broadcasted to the masses. DeVore is no different; she added that one of her main goals in the future is to represent the United States at the premier event.

But for now she hopes to add another medal to her name, this time in the most competitive event of her career. DeVore turns 16 the following day and hopes to bring home the best possible present from the World Championships.

“I’m just going to treat it as a normal tournament,” DeVore said. “A lot of people will get stressed because it’s such a big event. There’s no one there that isn’t good since they take the top fencers from each country. I’ll do my best and hopefully win a medal.”

Master Shifu would be proud, indeed.

rlacey@bcnnew.com, twitter.com/ryanlacey11