Kamara James

Weapon: Epee
Birthplace: Kingston,  Jamaica
Residence: Queens, New York
Height: 5-foot-


“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.  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.