NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Fencing used to be exclusively for royalty, but one man is making it more inclusive and helping diversify the sport on an international level.
“If it wasn’t for this sport, I would not be who I am, so what I wanted to do is expose this sport to other African Americans. That’s why we started the Peter Westbrook Foundation. This is a lily-white sport, make no bones about it,” Peter Westbrook told CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.READ MORE: Snapshot NY: 'Improv Everywhere' Reminds New Yorkers To Celebrate Shared Spaces
Westbrook made a career defying the odds. In 1984, he became the first African-American man to win an Olympic medal in fencing. He became a six-time Olympian. Since then, he’s been driving the sport towards progress.
“This is elevation of our children academically, elevation of our children athletically, and most of all … elevation of your spirit,” he said.
Before Westbrook’s foundation, New York wasn’t considered a fencing hub, but his charity provides fencing lessons for free.
“Now it’s open to all communities as opposed to just white communities … people who have a lot of money. Now anybody can fence,” said Yeisser Ramirez, U.S. Olympian, epee.
For centuries, an essential part of history has been played by the sword.
Foil comes from the light court sword, so the target is only the torso. The epee is a dueling sword, so all body parts are in play. The sabre is the cavalry sword, so it’s stabbing and cutting in a sport that is considered physical chess.
“Being that it’s so much strategy, so much tactics involved … It becomes beyond just a physical game, very much like a game of chess,” said Curtis McDowald, U.S. Olympian, epee.
Westbrook’s results have been phenomenal. This year, one third of Team USA’s men’s fencing team came from the Peter Westbrook Foundation.READ MORE: Snapshot NY: New Jersey Mason Johnny Langeraap Set To Compete In Bricklayer 500 World Championship In Las Vegas
“I call Peter the godfather of the godfathers when it comes to fencing,” Ramirez said.
“When you say the name Westbrook, you know that there are going to be Olympians coming,” said Aki-Spencer-El, 2000 U.S. Olympian, sabre.
He’s introduced more than 4,000 kids to fencing, giving these athletes their best chance to reach their potential and changing the face of the sport.
“I think New York is an incredible place. I know a lot of people from the foundation have come from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem,” said Daryl Homer, Olympic silver medalist, sabre.
That includes Homer. In the last Olympics, he became the first American man to win a silver medal in sabre in 112 years. He believes the pace of New York gives local kids a leg up in fencing.
“Being a kid growing up here … taking the subway back and forth. It prepares you a lot for fencing ’cause fencing is a really fast, um, you have to make quick reactions. You have to manage your emotions. You have to manage time,” Homer said.
It’s a sport that builds confidence, social skills and opens academic doors. Through his foundation, Westbrook has changed the idea of what’s possible — in fencing and beyond.
“Your Olympic career is only this much, which is amazing,” Westbrook said, holding his fingers a few inches apart.
“But your life is this much,” he added, holding his hands a foot apart.MORE NEWS: Snapshot NY: South Bronx Native Hopes After-School Program Inspires Students To Graduate, Change Perception Of Neighborhood
“If I had a choice, I’d rather you be successful in life,” Westbrook said.