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Competitive Olympic Fencer Dies at Age 29

Reported by Ashley Naples

Although rarely given mainstream media attention, fencing, the martial art of fighting with blades, has been at universities and schools for 500 years. There are many styles of the sport, but the most common version is olympic fencing which is divided into three weapon categories: foil, saber, and épée (French word meaning “sword”). A talented young woman in this industry has just passed away.

USA fencer Kamara James has passed away at the age of 29 in Modesto, Calif. on Tuesday. The cause of death has yet to be released publicly. Although James was raised by a single parent, she beat the odds stacked against her and made history when she represented Team USA as one of the youngest fencers at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. She was the only women’s épée to qualify for the competition. James retired from the sport after she competed in 2004; however, she never abandoned the industry and reportedly supported friends who were still involved in the sport.

James had competed on the Senior National Team since she was 16 and won bronze at the Junior World Championships. She was a native of Kingston, Jamaica but moved to Queens, NY with her mother at the age of 10, where she achieved a great deal of academic success.

Here’s more information about James’ incredible achievements:

Despite the difficult transition of life in a new country, she excelled in middle school and earned a full scholarship to The Dwight School.

Outstanding grades and a near perfect SAT score allowed James to secure an academic scholarship to Princeton. She took a year off from college to train for the Games, but James lacked both the experience and financial resources of her competitors.

Undeterred, she put together a full business plan and solicited more than $50,000 in donations to support the travel and training she would need to follow her Olympic dream.

“Most people can’t book their own plane tickets at that age and she created a budget for two full seasons. She made up her mind, knew she wanted to do this and that was it. She reached out to donors with a business plan and what her short term and long term goals were as well as what the return on investment would be. She was really grounded in terms of knowing how to take the steps she would need to reach any goal,” said 2008 Olympic silver medalist Keeth Smart (Brooklyn, N.Y.) who competed with James in Athens and trained with her for more than a decade at the Peter Westbrook Foundation. “Bar none, Kamara was one of the smartest people I’ve ever come across. Sometimes the strongest and fastest win, but to have a great career in fencing, you have to be one of the smartest and she definitely was it.”

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