July 21, 2019 | 92° F

Rutgers student lunges for chance at Olympic gold

Photo by Master Sgt. Lono Kollars and Master Sgt. Lono Kollars |
ATHENS, Greece -- Second Lt. Seth Kelsey (right) duels with Russian Ivan Tourchine in the 2nd round of the Olympic Men's Individual Epee event at Helliniko Fencing Hall near here Aug. 17. Lieutenant Kelsey lost 15-11 and did not advance to the third round. He is a member of the Air Force world-class athlete program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lono Kollars)

During her first two years at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Kamali Thompson commuted to New York City from New Brunswick to practice the sport of fencing. Thompson would catch a quick nap or study her notes on the train before heading to practice.

But those grueling commutes are now turning international, as Thompson is hoping to bring her fencing skills overseas to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Thompson, a Rutgers Business School graduate and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School third-year student, began fencing in middle school after initially getting involved with dancing.

“I was in eighth grade, at the Teaneck High School open-house, and I happened to be walking by a demonstration that the fencing team was doing with my mother,” Thompson said. “My mother pulled me in the gym and encouraged me to look into (fencing).”

After fencing for her high school team for two years, Thompson joined the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a non-profit youth fencing club for inner-city youth based in New York City.

Joining the Peter Westbrook Foundation exposed Thompson to the more serious side of fencing.

“Once I saw this club, I saw how serious fencing is. I saw people practicing everyday with coaches and going to classes three times a week. I learned about competing nationally and internationally."

Now, Thompson has started a RallyMe fundraising page in order to make her way to the 2016 Olympics. She has a goal of $30,000, and has raised $10,000 thus far.

The road to the Olympics is expensive, she said, due to the extensive traveling involved.

With eight international competitions and three national competitions, a bulk of the money she raises will go toward plane tickets and hotel rooms. The rest of the expenses goes toward equipment and visa fees.

“Those travelling expenses can easily be $10,000 to $12,000,” she said. “When you bring a coach with you, then you also have to pay for their expenses.”

Thus far, Thompson has travelled to 14 different countries for competitions, including Russia, China and Italy.

Her last competition was in Paris three weeks ago, where Thompson said the Chinese and French fencing teams joined the U.S. team during a week-long training camp prior to the competition.

“You really get to know other countries,” she said.

One key difference Thompson noticed between the U.S. and countries she has visited is their complete dedication to their sport.

“In other countries, (Olympic trainers) are like professionally paid athletes. They live together and train together every day,” she said. “ But in the U.S., we have side jobs or are in school.”

Thompson, as a Robert Wood Johnson Medical School student, is pursuing multiple commitments in addition to her Olympic aspirations.

But she said the skills she developed through fencing are useful in medical school.

"One of the biggest things in fencing is risk taking," she said. "... I think it is very similar in terms of academic group projects and in medical school ... I can handle pressure really well school, and I definitely got that from fencing."

A typical day for Thompson involves practice drills from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. with her teammates, a 30-minute lesson with her coach afterwards and a group class from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Juggling fencing and college has never been too difficult for Thompson, who said the commute to her practices in New York City was the most time-consuming part.

And even if Thompson does not make the 2016 Olympic fencing team, she said she will still aim to earn a spot on the 2020 team.

"A lot of people say fencing is like a marathon, not a race," she said. "The longer you do, the more experience you get and the better you get. I think there is a lot of room for me to grow, so I want to definitely try to make the 2020 team too."

Avalon Zoppo

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