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Sparring for the Underserved: Peter Westbrook (STERN ’75) Uses Fencing to Empower

“You can never have success in anything in life without practice,” said 1998 Distinguished Alumni Awardee Peter Westbrook (STERN ’75). Westbrook is a six time Olympian and Bronze Medalist for the United States’ Fencing team who now runs a New York City-based foundation that exposes youth from underserved communities to the practice of fencing.

In honor of World Fencing Day on September 8, take a look at his impressive career.

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Westbrook’s mother encouraged him to pursue fencing, offering him $5 for each practice he attended. Eventually his love of the sport overpowered the financial incentive.

“Boxing and chess combined would be the equivalent of fencing,” he said. “In fencing you need a very aggressive kind of person. Super aggressive and also a mind that can articulate certain moves to beat their opponent.”

One day, Westbrook received a recruitment call from New York University’s Hugo Castello, who served as NYU’s fencing coach and led the team to 10 national championships. It was during his college career that his fencing took on all new levels.

"NYU was like a tributary that lead out into the great ocean—you could get there from here,” Westbrook wrote in his autobiography Harnessing Anger: The Inner Discipline of Athletic Excellence.

 

In 1973, Westbrook won the NCAA fencing championship. He went on to win 13 national titles and become one of the most notable American sabrists.

 

Westbrook was first named to the U.S. Olympic team for fencing in 1976 and again in 1984, when he won a bronze medal and became the first African American to win an Olympic medal in the sport. He has competed in a total of six Olympic Games.

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Now, Westbrook is the one scouting and coaching future Olympians, all while empowering underserved youth.

The Peter Westbrook Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that introduces young people from underserved communities in New York City to the sport of fencing. The organization works to empower participants with essential life skills outside just the practice of fencing, through speaking engagements and help with academic work.

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“When I first started the foundation, even my wife thought it was the craziest idea,” Westbrook said.

 

Now, the foundation has produced four Olympic medalists who return to help train the incoming athletes. “When you begin to become successful, I need [the former students] to begin to give back now.”

Westbrook also pursued a successful business career, working at IBM and Pitney Bowes, and eventually North American Van Lines for 11 years, ultimately serving as marketing director.