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Instagram: @ KAMALITHOMPSON.USA
Name: Kamali Thompson, MD
Job: Olympic substitute for the American fencing team, resident in orthopedic surgery
Hometown: Teaneck, New Jersey
Hobby: Dance, blog, travel, watch reality TV, relax with family and friends
Kamali Thompson isn’t left on the fence when it comes to life. When making decisions, she literally sticks to them. As a professional fencer, Olympic alternative to the United States, and resident in orthopedic surgery, she is a modern day superwoman wielding a saber. She always manages to take life in stride, the perfect combination of confidence and humility. Whether in medical gown or fencing gear, she never lets them see her sweat. Thompson sat down to share how she discovered fencing and the unique ways she channels her superpowers.
The following interview has been edited slightly for clarity and length.
Empower Onyx: I have a confession about fencing: I’m intimidated by the outfit. How do you deal with this?
Kamali Thompson: (Laughs) At first you tell yourself, it’s so many things. But luckily, I’m not a big sweater. If you are, you probably won’t like it. But it protects you, so it’s worth it.
EO: Please explain how a girl from Teaneck, NJ, becomes a professional fencer.
KT: I admit it’s very weird. Like, looks funny, the outfits are crazy. That’s why I really hated him at first. I was 12 when I started high school. I have a baby face; I have glasses. The last thing I want to do is nerd around. There you go, I started fencing, that’s it. This is not where I wanted to be.
My mom and I were at an open house at my high school, and I went to the dance hall because I was so excited to see what was going on and where I was going to be spending all of my time in high school, at least That’s what I thought. We ended up walking past the cafeteria and there was a fencing demonstration. My mom, for some reason, looked inside and she was mesmerized. My high school coach, another black woman, had a conversation with my mom for 20 minutes. At the end of the conversation my mom said: Well, you’re going to start fencing now. Apparently my trainer told her that I would be great at fencing because I was a dancer and the footwork would translate, and maybe I could get a scholarship. That’s about all my mom needed to hear. After that, she told me I was going to do fencing.
EO: 17 years later, you still practice fencing. Why?
KT: The first thing is that I think every girl should play sports. When we think of sport, we think of basketball and football, very classic sports. Also, people think that if you are not the athletic type then you have no place in the sport, and that is simply not true. Try different things like swimming, lacrosse, whatever. There is a sport for you, even if it is different. Young children don’t like different things; they want to integrate. I was one of them. I totally understand.
Accept being unique, because being unique really helps you develop a certain level of skill that other people won’t have.
Once you’ve really found what you love and what you’re passionate about, just forget about what everyone else is saying. Because if you do something different people are always going to ask you why you are doing it. They’ll doubt you, but if you like it and you’re good, it’s just gonna take you far. I am delighted to be a fencer.
Funny thing: I recently had one of my bullies from college sent me a DM last year and told me that I am an inspiration to his daughter. People will laugh at you first, and then later they will be happy that you found your rhythm.
EO: Would you say fencing is more of a mentally or physically demanding sport?
KT: I would honestly say it’s the perfect combination of the two. You have to be in good physical shape, but you also have to be smart and very tactical. If you’re the fastest, strongest person it doesn’t mean winning in fencing, it doesn’t mean much. All that means is that you are fast and that you are strong. If you’re the smartest person, but can’t get around the Strip, that doesn’t help either. Being in a good place physically is beneficial, but then you have to learn to strategize, to adapt during fights because the balance happens so quickly. You really have to master both sides.
EO: When you compete, what puts you in the zone?
KT: One thing I started doing two seasons ago is watching sports documentaries, or sports movies, the day before and for 10 minutes the morning of my competition. It really put me in the zone. I watched Creed and Creed 2. I love Michael B. Jordan, but the part where he trains to beat the Russian at the start of the movie, that keeps me going. So I started to watch The last dance with Michael Jordan. So this is my routine. And I do visualization in the evening and in the morning too.
EO: Talk more about your visualization routine.
KT: I don’t remember her full name, but a woman once said that if you stand in the mirror like a super woman, look yourself in the eye and say a positive mantra, it gives you confidence. And she is right.
EO: What was your mantra for balancing your medical studies and your professional fencing?
KT: I started international fencing during my first year of medicine. In terms of practice, studies, competitions, this whole regime made me effective. On Monday, I was taking care of 60 patients and had about 13 consultations, so you have to be efficient. This is something I learned by training and being in school at the same time: Do your task, make sure it’s done right, make sure it’s done right, and then move on to the next one.