All eyes are on Jamal Fenwick when he walks into a fencing competition.
The lingering stares he receives when he's at elite tournaments and Junior Olympic qualifiers are nothing new, and it really doesn't bother him at this point.
As one of few African-American fencers, Fenwick understands people just aren't used to seeing a minority competing in the predominantly white sport.
"There's not a lot of black fencers," Fenwick said. "When I walk into a tournament, everybody does kind of [turn] their eyes towards me. Especially, like, when you see a minority and then you place high ... it's like everyone else around them has a high expectation.
"No, [it doesn't make me nervous], I think they're more nervous than me."
Fenwick, a Baltimore native, knew when he picked the sport at the age of 8 that he was going against convention.
He doesn't mind being different, however; in fact, he embraces it in some regard. Whether he stands out for his ethnicity or his high skill set, Fenwick doesn't allow the extra attention to take his concentration away from his goal of being an A-rated fencer.
"When [tournaments] post seedings up and they give rank, I don't ever look at my name," Fenwick said. "I already know what it's going to say [and] … I don't really care what rank [my opponents] are; it doesn't really affect me. I don't got no reason to look at it — I know what my ranking is [and] I don't need to know what anyone else's ranking is. All I need to know is get on the strip and fence 'em."
Fenwick, a student of the late Richard "Dick" Oles, is participating in the Maryland Division U-20 Junior Olympic qualifiers this weekend for an opportunity to compete in the National Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, which Baltimore will host in February.
The D-rated foil and E-rated sabre will also partake in the Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic on Dec. 1 and 2. The event was named in honor of his coach, who died in January 2011.
"[Coach] taught more than fencing; he taught life," Fenwick said. "He taught you what was right and was wrong, what was fair — he always had a strict rule on fairness, and on no complaining, and take what you get, and get what you got.
"He had a silent respectable foundation. It wasn't no loopholing around it: It's, 'This is fair, this is what you don't do.' [He wanted] you to grow up to be this kind of person."
Robin Haley, Fenwick's mother, said her son first approached her about taking fencing classes after he read a brochure about the sport. Initially, she was unable to find a place where lessons were taught, but with the help of Fenwick's T-ball coach, they discovered Oles' fencing club.
When Haley first met Oles, she said, it took her some time to warm up to him, especially after he nicknamed her son "X", because as he explained, "he was was the boy with no identity."
Eventually, though, Oles and the nickname grew on her, and looking back now, she says Oles was the father figure her son needed to help him realize there are better options waiting for him outside Baltimore.
"That meant everything to me," Haley said. "I wanted my son to be involved in something that's going to benefit him to become a man."
Fenwick, a City College student, already knows what he wants to do. If he doesn't go to college on a fencing scholarship, he said, he'll join the military service.
The 16-year-old, who received his first ranking at 14, said he believes he'll do great things in the in the future, and isn't too nervous about it.
"It's just an ongoing process," Fenwick said. "Just come to practice, work as hard as I can, go home, go to school; it's just something that comes over time. ...
"One thing that I think that holds me from everyone else is me not getting angry. You'll see a lot of fencers on strip, especially when they would lose ... start dropping tears or they would get mad and start throwing stuff and throwing tantrums. I can stay calm and listen to what I tell myself or my strip coaches tell me. [My calmness] allows me to listen when people tell me stuff."
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