Fencing gives a new thrust to kids' lives
Former Olympian teaches inner-city children - and sends three to Sydney
(Page 2 of 2)
Westbrook ultimately was awarded a fencing scholarship to New York University - a school renowned for its team - and quickly made a name for himself, racking up a host of national and international fencing titles.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Today, Westbrook's focus has shifted toward offering maximum support - academic, emotional, and athletic - to a new generation of kids who'd like to make that same leap. The foundation offers not just fencing lessons, but also academic tutors for any young fencers who need help with their school work. Students learn quickly that if they don't keep their grades up, they can't fence.
Lessons are offered at two levels. Saturday classes are open to beginners and those pursuing the sport more casually, with about 100 kids currently in attendance. But there is also a "superstar" division that includes 30 to 35 students who work out seriously every afternoon.
From that superstar division have sprung Akhi Spencer-El, and brother and sister pair Keeth and Errin Smart, all three of whom will represent the US on this year's Olympic team.
Ms. Smart, currently a junior at Barnard College in New York and a member of the Columbia University fencing team, remembers that she and her brother became two of Westbrook's first students when her enthusiastic father heard of the program in 1991 and rushed his children over to sign them up.
She fences foil and her brother fences saber. The foundation teaches all three forms of fencing: foil and saber, which focus more on thrust and have a more refined appearance, and pe, which has a more dramatic slashing style and is the most aggressive of the forms.
The siblings' prowess at the sport has clearly shaped the course of their young lives. The two have already traveled much of the globe to compete. Errin, who is majoring in economics at Barnard, says, "It's taught me to use my time very well. I've never had much time to just hang out with friends."
But she has no regrets. The sport suits her perfectly, she says. "I like competing, I'm a very aggressive person."
One of the reasons he's been so successful with city kids, says Westbrook, is that the hard edge of urban life tends to endow youngsters with a toughness, something he believes he can use positively by channeling that energy into fencing matches.
"These kids grow up in an overcrowded environment and develop a fighting spirit," he says. "You can turn that into a plus."
The recognition his students have received from the outside world has been a source of real joy to him, he adds. "These kids were not really wanted by society. Now they're being fought over by European coaches."
But Westbrook insists that the real reason for his success is his religious grounding, which he describes simply as Christian. As a coach, he asks all his young fencers - including those who insist they are nonbelievers - to pray before their matches. He says he sees his foundation "not just as a fencing school but as a spiritual movement, a big family."
The attraction is not simply the sport, he insists, but rather "the love and the spirit and something else."
*Send e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society