Just a few years in the past, Nzingha Prescod was coaching to qualify for her third Olympic video games. However this summer time, as an alternative of competing in Tokyo, she’ll be educating the game to youngsters in and round Brooklyn via her program Fencing within the Park.
She was nonetheless coaching at a world-class degree when a painful hip damage pressured her to retire at 27 from the game that has been her life since she was 9 years previous. Though it was a disappointment, Prescod had been occupied with what her life would seem like after her skilled fencing profession.
She knew she needed to keep in fencing and discover a manner to give again to her group and share what she realized from the game with the following era.
“It simply opens many doorways. It opens your networks, you journey the world. There’s so many prospects that may not have been even in your purview, even considered in your thoughts as a risk. You’re being uncovered to a lot being on this area,” she says. “This could change lots of people’s lives from the place I am from. It modified my life. The individuals I am round, it modified their lives, so why not? It is improper for it not to be extra accessible.”
Prescod says she seen from a younger age how exclusionary fencing will be and has all the time thought of how to use sport to remodel and empower communities economically, socially, and emotionally, particularly in her neighborhood of Flatlands, in Brooklyn. She needed the kids in her group, together with her goddaughter, to have the chance to get into fencing, which isn’t as accessible as different extra mainstream sports activities.
Services aren’t straightforward to get to from Brooklyn, so dad and mom have to get their youngsters to the Peter Westbrook Basis in Harlem—the place Prescod first educated. “It wanted to be introduced to them if I needed to have interaction youngsters from my neighborhood in fencing,” she says.
Final summer time, Prescod noticed a soccer coach working drills in a park shut to her house. She knew that it will be an ideal place to educate fencing, particularly throughout the top of the pandemic.
Absolute Fencing, certainly one of Prescod’s sponsors, helped present gear—and Fencing within the Park was born.
What began out as a six-week summer time clinic with 11 youngsters final summer time has grown right into a constant group of 25 and is continuous to evolve. Fencing within the Park hosted a spring collection earlier this 12 months, labored with faculties in Harlem and launched a high-performance program that awarded two scholarships to a pair of sisters to proceed superior coaching. She needed to ensure that Fencing within the Park was a program that centered on growing youngsters’s life expertise via fencing, moderately than simply introducing them to the game.
Prescod, her sister and her finest good friend obtained scholarships to attend the selective and rigorous after-school fencing program at Peter Westbrook Basis. Westbrook—a six-time Olympian and U.S. champion—started his basis in 1991 to educate fencing and life expertise to youngsters from underserved communities in New York Metropolis and make fencing extra seen to individuals of colour. Thirty years later, Westbrook has had a huge effect on altering the panorama of fencing—and has a popularity for coaching top-level athletes.
Though she was proficient sufficient to enter this system, Prescod says she wasn’t pretty much as good because the others in her first 12 months, dropping typically to her sister and finest good friend. However, she hated dropping and cherished the game as a result of it was extra strategic and analytical than any of the opposite sports activities that she had performed earlier than. Largely, Prescod says she was impressed by the group and household the group had constructed.
“It was simply very inspiring as a nine-year-old to enter an area with Black fencers who’re reaching excellence of their sport,” Prescod says. “The group is absolutely why I stayed. My buddies have been there; we have been buddies with individuals who had related backgrounds. I had a extremely nice village of individuals supporting me, and I used to be actually good from a extremely younger age, so it simply made sense. It was by no means even a thought to cease. Simply all the things made sense.”
Prescod received her very first nationwide match in her age group when she was 10 years previous. When she was 14, she received her first Cadet World Championship within the Below-17 group. At 15, she barely missed out on the 2008 Olympic staff after putting fifth in qualifiers. She stored coaching, and competed on the Olympics in 2012 and 2016.
An eight-time world medalist, and one of the crucial adorned fencers within the nation, she earned a scholarship to Columbia College, and fenced on the faculty not removed from the place she first educated in Harlem as a baby.
“The game has been so highly effective for me in my life, and I do know different individuals’s lives, so I’m simply making an attempt to expand the mission and scale it to extra individuals—as a result of the place I grew up, in my neighborhood, there wasn’t entry to that type of alternative, positively not an abundance,” Prescod says. “This elite providing of inspiring excellence, enrichment—that type of caliber of schooling shouldn’t be accessible. It’s transformative for individuals, so it’s needed. It’s a needed element of schooling to have these packages that encourage greatness.”
Prescod says discovering funding to help the free clinics was the troublesome a part of getting Fencing within the Park up and working, however teaching the kids in a sport they’re not used to can be a problem at instances. It’s a steadiness to encourage the children, assist them perceive the worth of sport and the way it interprets to their private and tutorial futures, whereas additionally ensuring they’re having enjoyable. She teaches persistence, technique, self-discipline, dedication and the technical expertise of fencing.
“I’m making an attempt to develop a program that’s impactful, whether or not they do it recreationally or at a excessive efficiency degree,” Prescod says. “That’s actually the objective.
“Everybody has such a good time as a result of they’re studying a brand new talent, they’re studying like life expertise of resilience. After which it’s enjoyable for me once I get to increase some fencers and share my mastery of the game. It’s simply good vibes.”
Fencing has lengthy been an unique and primarily white sport, however lately Black fencers have made waves on the U.S. staff. Ibtihaj Muhammad, one other Peter Westbrook Basis alumna, made historical past as the primary U.S. Olympian to compete in a hijab on the Rio video games in 2016, and the ladies’s foil fencing staff has medaled in three straight World Championships from 2017 to 2019.
Prescod is aware of the game nonetheless has a good distance to go when it comes to recruiting and retaining athletes, particularly on the ladies’s facet, however she’s joyful to do the work. She desires to proceed to present sustainable and scalable entry so youngsters can expertise the identical reward that fencing gave her at 9 years previous. She says that is the place she desires her power to go long run.
“I’m joyful to be sharing my sport and being a degree of connection to the game. It is interesting to have somebody who you may establish with and aspire to be like,” she says. “You want that type of particular person to deliver individuals alongside, and to encourage and encourage individuals, and encourage individuals to be concerned in fencing.”
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Jacqueline LeBlanc is a contributor for GoodSport, a media firm devoted to elevating the visibility of ladies and women in sports activities.