“I honestly feel like I’m not special, there’s nothing different about me, except that I was presented with an opportunity and an amazing team (Peter Westbrook Foundation) that inspires and guides me constantly.”
Activities: Fencing, US Olympian
Q: You are on the US Fencing Team. How did you get involved with fencing?
I started at 9 years old at the Peter Westbrook Foundation. My mom put me in a lot of sports when I was young and fencing was the sport we stuck with.
Q: Looking back to when you started, did you instantly know it was something you wanted to pursue?
Instantly, no. I wasn’t that good at it at first, but I’ve always been really competitive and I hated losing, so that gave me the drive to be better. Once I started getting better, it was like a never-ending puzzle and challenge that I got addicted to! That’s pretty much how I feel about it still.
Q: What opportunities has the sport provided for you?
So many that I am so grateful for. I think I’m probably most appreciative of the family its given me at the Peter Westbrook Foundation. I’ve become an Olympian in this sport. I’ve learned the true meaning of discipline, dedication and hard-work. I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, gone to an Ivy League college, and meet all kinds of influential people like the President and First Lady. I have been exposed to different cultures and ideas, and become so well-rounded. Most importantly, I have been able to inspire and motivate others, which has also been so special and satisfying for me.
Q: What does your training consist of?
It really varies depending on the time of the season and how healthy I am. When I’m in full swing, it’s usually 5-6 days a week for about 3-4 hours each day. My training consists of one on one lessons with my coach, fencing footwork, tactical drills, bouting, weights, agility, plyometrics, physical therapy, and recently I’ve started incorporating mental training.
Q: Where will fencing fit into your life, in the future?
Fencing has always been such a huge part of my life, and I think I have a few more years in the sport. Once I graduate from Columbia in May, I want to work part-time at a mentoring program like Black Girls Rock! to inspire young girls that are so much like myself. At some point I want to have my own non-profit that is sports focused and aims to use non-traditional sports as tools for growth and accessing opportunities.
Q: What other sports did you participate in growing up?
My mom put my sister and I in karate, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, softball, and ballet!
Q: Fencing is not a sport many people of African descent get involved in, why do you think that is?
I think there are a few reasons. It’s traditionally a really elitist sport, and so there isn’t a history of minorities being exposed to and involved with it. I was one of four on the US 2012 Olympic team. I think it was really encouraging for young black kids to just see people who look like them succeeding in a sport like fencing. There are so many other sports beyond basketball and football that can provide opportunities, and I’m glad I can be a representation of that. Another reason is, between the coaching, traveling, and equipment, fencing is really expensive; so, it’s not accessible to everyone, which is really unfortunate. I was lucky enough to have found the Peter Westbrook Foundation, which covers a lot of my expenses.
Q: What do you think needs to be done to get people of African descent more involved?
I think there needs to be more noise about fencing so they know about it and what they can gain from it. I also think programs like the Peter Westbrook Foundation are crucial. I also believe that sports should be more infused in policy because it’s such a useful mechanism, for any demographic or socioeconomic background, to achieving success and self betterment.
Q: You’re still in college, how difficult is it to balance school work, training, and competitions?
It is super difficult! I have had a lot of practice over the years but it is always a struggle. I think both are full-time jobs, and both require a lot of time and energy and there is only so much to spare. But it is not impossible, even though it seems like that sometimes!
Q: Looking beyond the obvious, why do you believe being physically fit is important?
Being physically fit, helps to keep me sane. I love feeling accomplished when I finish a good practice or workout. Physical fitness doesn’t just have aesthetic advantages, it is also great for confidence and developing resilience, because it is so demanding. Those things are transferable and beneficial in anything you do.
Q: Are there other sports you would like to try? If so, what are they?
Hmm, I would love to play tennis competitively! I think the motions are really similar to fencing and I also like that it’s really tactically challenging.
Q: What was it like competing in the Olympics? Are you interested in returning?
Competing in the Olympics was everything people said it would be – it really lived up to the hype. It was so immense and breath-taking, kinda overwhelming! I definitely am training for Rio in 2016!
Q: How do you like to spend your free time?
Free time is rare but I really like to just be spontaneous and feel free. I like to explore and try new things and do what makes me happy.
Q: Do you watch what you eat?
I don’t have a specific diet but I do cut down on sugar and try to have a healthy eating lifestyle. My trainer, Ahmed Yilla, keeps me in line with that stuff!
Q: Being on the US team, you potentially have a platform to reach other children of color and encourage them to become involved in fencing and other sports that are often overlooked. Is this something you would like to do and if so, how would you go about doing it?
I really want to be part of a program that encourages children of color to be great. I honestly feel like I’m not special, there’s nothing different about me, except that I was presented with an opportunity and an amazing team (Peter Westbrook Foundation) that inspires and guides me constantly. I really want to share what Peter has shared with me, with young minorities.
Q: Do you believe there are people who are resistant to the face of fencing changing?
I don’t think people are actively resistant but I think more can be done to steer it in a more mainstream direction. I think we also need to start with finding more means of lowering/subsidizing costs.
Q: What are your plans when you graduate?
I will be training for Rio! I also want to work part-time at Black Girls Rock! on a sports initiative. That would be ideal and would love to get in contact with Beverly Bond!!
Q: Why did you want to be a part of the MCBMI campaign?
I think the MCBMI campaign aligns with my beliefs about empowerment through sport. I really passionately feel like sports and fitness are underutilized in our society and there needs to be more campaigns like MCBMI to change that!