Birthplace: Kingston, Jamaica
Residence: Queens, New York
“The way I see it is that I should think about the future, but I should probably take a quarter of that and put it into the present because I might not be in the future, meaning that because of all the corruption, I could get shot.”
A tragic statement for 11-year old Kamara James, but an understandable one for a child growing up in an inner-city neighborhood where gunshots corrupt any feelings of safety and security.
At the age of 9, Kamara moved from a poor area of Kingston, Jamaica to a crime-ridden neighborhood in Queens, New York. Kamara’s mother, wanting the best for her daughter, felt the Queens schools weren’t challenging enough for Kamara. So she sent her to a school in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. From there, Kamara was introduced to the Peter Westbrook Fencing Foundation. Kamara’s teacher heard about Peter’s program and urged her to join. Even though she was only 10 at the time, Kamara quickly caught the eye of Westbrook and her coach Eric Rosenberg. Rosenberg says, “When I saw Kamara for the first time, the light went on. I said, ‘This kid’s got it’.”
After watching Kamara’s fencing skills skyrocket over the years, Westbrook increased her training time, and assigned her to Olympic Coach Aladar Kogler. The lessons have paid off. Now 15, Kamara finished fifth among all adult women in her weapon class at the U-S Nationals in the summer of 2000. Her success, though, goes far beyond the point of her sword.Â After the Nationals she attended a highly competitive summer program at Harvard University.
Kamara admits, “I don’t know what I would have done without the Peter Westbrook Foundation, not just in fencing, but in all aspects of my life.” It was through the Foundation, Kamara says, that she was welcomed into a community of positive role models at a very difficult time in her life. Kamara describes her relationship with Peter Westbrook, coaches and senior fencers at the club as being akin to “big brothers”. She credits them for teaching her the real meanings of friendships. ”I learned how important it is to know and try to seek out real people and try to learn from real people. I almost call it true love, kind of. I was isolated from the outside world. Now, my relationships are deeper.”
Kamara says fencing “teaches you stability, consistency and how to be tenacious. You have to go after what you want. It teaches you good principles.” Kamara’s fencing weapon is epee. The epee blade has a triangular cross-section with slightly concave sides to reduce weight without reducing strength. The fencer’s entire body is a valid target in competitions.
One competition Kamara doesn’t want to miss is the 2004 Olympic Games. She’s determined to get a place on the team. Kamara’s long-term goals include studying law, returning to her homeland and shifting gears from the fencing to the political arena. Here, she hopes to activate social change so young children won’t have to live in fear like she did.