Kamara James (Photo: USA Fencing)
Kamara James, a U.S. fencing Olympian who represented the country in the 2004 Athens games, recently passed away in Modesto, CA at 29. US Fencing announced the sad news today on their official website today, though James died on September 20. Little information is presently known about her cause of death.
The fencing star took up the sport at 11-year-old shortly after she and her mother emigrated from their native Jamaica to New York. James described her childhood as “difficult,” but one of her teachers saw something in her and introduced her to Olympic fencing champion Peter Westbrook,which gave her an outlet and set her on her path to Olympic greatness. “It was difficult,” she once told the New York Daily News. “But fencing helped me break out of my shell. I was always over-thinking things. Then I found a way to challenge myself physically and mentally.”
After her skills quickly developed at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a club founded to “enhance the lives of inner-city youth,” James won a fencing scholarship to the prestigious (and pricey) Dwight School on Manhattan’s upper West Side. James went on to receive a full scholarship to Princeton, and while there, she landed an internship at Morgan Stanley that afforded her a $50,000 grant to support her Olympic expenses.
James was only 19-years-old when she went to Athens to represent Team USA at the 2004 Olympics, and she was one of the youngest fencers that year as well as the only U.S. women’s épée fencer to qualify that year.
(James, pictured at far right; Photo: US Fencing)
One of James’ teammates, Erinn Smart, remembers how she stood out amongst her peers. “What always amazed me about Kamara was how diligent she was. I knew her from the day she started fencing and instantly everyone knew she was a precocious talent,” Smart told US Fencing. “She had the best performance markers of anyone I’d ever seen. At that point, we’d had athletes from PWF on the junior and cadet teams and I kind of had a good gauge of where one should be and she always worked harder than anyone in her age category. She lived 90 minutes away and was always the first one there and last one to leave.”
James retired from competitive fencing after the Athens Games, and went on to earn a degree in religious studies from Princeton and earned admission into Harvard to pursue a master’s degree in comparative religion.