With 78 days until the 2016 Olympic Games, members of the USA fencing team prepped for Rio and helped raise money for the next generation of fencers Thursday night at the “Turn The Light On” Gala at the recently opened Tim Morehouse Fencing Club in Manhattan.
Following fencing demonstrations from Olympians Race Imboden, Dagmara Wozniak, Monica Aksamit and junior athlete Sam Moelis, the Olympians took on members of the crowd who donated at the gala, which raised about $180,000 in total, according to Morehouse, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist and the founder of Fencing In The Schools. The crowd had a 19-0 head-start, and for the first time in the event’s four-year history, Morehouse said, the crowd defeated the Olympians, 47-43.
“It’s awesome because if it wasn’t for donors and stuff like that, I wouldn’t be fencing,” said Aksamit, a women’s saber who was named to the U.S. Olympic team for the first time this year. “I went through a foundation program through my fencing club, and if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so it’s definitely awesome to support something like that.”
Morehouse’s Fencing In The Schools program has brought fencing to more than 15,000 students across nine states in afterschool and physical education programs and last year introduced its first varsity fencing team to Democracy Prep in Harlem.
While Morehouse’s focus is in schools, his most famous student is a 62-year-old best known for his work on “Project Runway” — Tim Gunn.
The pair met when Morehouse interviewed Gunn for an AOL web series, and after the fashion icon learned that the former Olympian’s new fencing club is “right around the corner” from his apartment, he asked if he could be Morehouse’s oldest student.
Now he’s a fencer and a donor who helped raise funds to send two members of the Democracy Prep fencing team to a two-week training program in China this summer.
Morehouse, a Bronx native who attended Riverdale Country School, is planning to spread his program’s efforts beyond Democracy Prep next year by launching varsity teams in urban schools in the Bronx, Manhattan and Newark, New Jersey, next year.
“I just feel fortunate my school had fencing,” Morehouse said. “I went to a private school that had fencing, and there are very few fencing programs. The impact it had on my life was incalculable, and I want every kid to have that opportunity.”
Wozniak, a two-time Olympian, said being an Olympic athlete is all about being a role model.
“I can only hope that I can motivate younger girls to be comfortable with themselves and go for their dreams and what they are really passionate about,” she said. “I’m definitely not the regular body type. I’m on the bigger side, and I just love fencing, and I feel like it’s giving me an opportunity to just really express myself and just being a role model and working really hard toward something, showing that it doesn’t matter what people say.”
For Wozniak, a women’s saber ranked No. 12 in the world who finished eighth at the 2012 London Games, the goal is to win gold.
Morehouse, a two-time Olympian, advised Wozniak and the rest of Team USA to just try to enjoy the experience.
“The final 100 days leading up to the Games is just a really special time for Olympians, especially when you know you’re going, just sort of living it all up and your dream is like right around the corner, and it’s going to happen,” Morehouse said.
“I always compare it to ‘Chronicles of Narnia.’ It’s a magical world, the Olympics. I love it. Any part of the Olympics is so special. I think our world needs the Olympics. It’s the one thing that brings us altogether, especially with all the divisiveness that we have. And I think the Rio Olympics is going to be a very important Games for the U.S. and the world, not just in sports but in again just seeing how the world can come together in a peaceful way and how we can all work together.”