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Proving the sport of fencing isn’t just for wealthy White men, two-time Olympian Daryl Homer is looking to lunge Team USA to a third win when the Tokyo Olympics begin on July 23.
Homer already made history at the 2016 Rio Olympics when he became the first American man to medal in sabre since Peter Westbrook, who won a bronze in 1984. Westbrook made history himself with his 1984 bronze win, becoming the first African American to ever win an Olympic medal in fencing.
With Homer’s 2016 silver medal, he surpassed his predecessor, Westbrook, by becoming the first U.S. saber fencer of any race or ethnicity to specifically win an individual silver medal at the Olympic Games since 1904.
Daryl Homer knows how to win
Currently, the International Fencing Federation ranks saber fencer Daryl Homer No. 17 in the world. Another U.S.A. athlete in the individual saber fencing category, Eli Dershwitz, is ranked No. 2. Together, they hope to parry past the competition.
On top of being a two-time Olympian, Homer was a four-time NCAA All-American in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. He also was the first U.S. man to win a medal in saber at the Senior World Championships in 2015, according to USAfencing.org.
But beyond the medals and accolades, Homer is fighting for something more. The Black fencer continues to pave a path for other kids from disadvantaged communities hoping to see themselves in the sport as brand ambassador for a charity called Fencing in the Schools.
More than just a competition
“Why do I do what I do? I guess it’s because there’s no other place that I’ve been able to challenge myself so much. Nothing else in my life that’s shown me how much I’m made of,” Homer wrote in an Op-ed for TeamUSA.org.
“Black Lives Matter has been at the forefront of our community for quite some time,” Homer said. “I’m happy it’s getting the national spotlight and allies are starting to take part in it.”
Homer added, “I’ve been on calls where something along the lines of ‘we understand how difficult this time period is’ is said, but none of this is new. This “current circumstance” is an everyday reality for many of the Black athletes in the sporting world. Many of us hold our communities in our hearts alongside our accomplishments.”
Born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Homer moved to the mainland, the Bronx specifically, at age five with his mother. Initially his mother laughed off his aspirations to become a fencer when he first saw an image of them in a dictionary.
It wasn’t until Homer saw a commercial at age 10 featuring two Black fencers when his mom decided to open the yellow pages, finding the Peter Westbrook Foundation. A legendary Black fencer in his own right, the Olympic bronze medalist Peter Westbrook eventually took Daryl Homer under his wing through the foundation. The program’s stated objective is to push diversity, inclusion and representation to the forefront of fencing.
And by age 11, no one could keep a sword out of Homer’s hand.
Preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games
“I love the fact that I have to equally use my mind, body and spirit. Every training is an exercise in problem solving, patience and control,” Homer said.
“As I prepare for my third Olympic Games, I’ve been spending time thinking back to where my passion in this sport came from…I remember being a kid and picking up a fencing weapon for the first time. It was a foil, similar to what I’d seen in the parent trap. I felt free, powerful, engaged,” he added.
Daryl Homer went on to train under the tutelage of famous Black fencers who came before him at the Peter Westbrook Foundation and eventually sparred with and trained under the first two Black fencers he ever saw in a commercial, 1984 Olympian Peter Westbrook and Akhi Spencer-El, a 2000 Olympian who is also Homer’s current coach. Homer cites Keeth Smart as his role model. Before Westbrook, Keeth Smart held the highest rank of any Black fencer in the sport.
“I used to have crying fits and get really upset because I kept losing, but the foundation is a really loving place and everyone feels supported. One of the biggest things I’ve taken from Peter is that you can compete and still have kinship.”
Homer, who will turn 31 years old days before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, was only the second Black U.S. fencer to ever reach the individual Olympic podium in 2016. He plans to lunge, parry and riposte his way to the top once again, bringing with him a new, diverse generation of interest in the sport.