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|Born||16 April 1952|
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
|Height||5 ft 9 in (175 cm)|
Peter Jonathan Westbrook (born April 16, 1952) is an American former sabre fencing national and Pan American Games champion, Olympic bronze medalist, and founder of the Peter Westbrook Foundation. He founded the Peter Westbrook Foundation (PWF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit that uses fencing as a vehicle in developing life and academic skills of young people from under-served communities of New York City.
Westbrook's father, Ulysses, was a G.I. stationed in Japan during the Korean War when he met Mariko, a Japanese woman from a sheltered home. Soon after their marriage they returned to the United States, traveling first to St. Louis, Missouri, and eventually settling in Newark, New Jersey, where Peter and his younger sister Vivian were born. Peter's earliest memories are of frequent bouts of domestic violence.
Peter was 4 when his father left, leaving his mother to raise the family with no real skills or outside means of support. Through a series of jobs, working in a factory and as a maid, she provided for her children. Raising the children Catholic, Mariko bartered with priests at the local parochial school (St. Peters/Queen of Angels) in exchange for schooling for Peter and Vivian.
Harassed by the other children because of his mixed race and taught by his mother to "not cry, to work hard, to be ethical, and to fight to achieve our goals; And if we should survive the fight, she said, we should get up and fight some more," the young Westbrook became a very good fighter. His fencing career started at fencing powerhouse Essex Catholic High School, only because of his mother's $5 bribe. Mariko knew that fencing would keep Peter out of trouble and, if he had any ability, bring him into contact with people who would expose him to a different world than the one he had been born into.
Early fencing career
Under the tutelage of Dr. Samuel D'ambola, a medical doctor and the founder of the Essex Catholic High School fencing program, his talent was discovered and nurtured. Despite experiencing some incidents of racism, he excelled. Recognizing his abilities, D'ambola started Westbrook with the sabre. Used predominantly as a cutting and slashing weapon, he was thrilled to be training on a sword that childhood hero Zorro had also used.
I quickly became attached to sabre fencing ... [it] satisfied my constant need to be quick with everything I did. Fencing was just like street boxing, only not as brutal. And here was a kind of fighting that my mother not only allowed, but actually encouraged." [Harnessing Anger, pg 33]
By his senior year he was the best fencer for a high school team.
Westbrook didn't consider college until he received a recruitment call from New York University's Hugo Castello, the multi-championship-winning fencing coach for one of the best fencing programs in the country. Under the tutelage of coaching greats like Hugo and James Castello, Westbrook's abilities entered a new level. In addition to talented coaching, he would regularly spar with teammates like Steve Kaplan.
"NYU was like a tributary that lead out into the great ocean—you could get there from here." [Harnessing Anger, page 41]
While at NYU Westbrook switched from the School of Education to the New York University Stern School of Business, falsely believing that working in an office would be easier than teaching having to "stand in front of a bunch of people and look them in the eyes and convey a message!" [Harnessing Anger, page 42]
Westbrook credits therapist Mildred Klingman with helping him lose his fears and inhibitions and teaching him how to "read" people and communicate with them.
In 1972 he began training with Csaba Elthes, a Hungarian sabreur at the New York Fencers Club. Physically and verbally abusive behavior led Westbrook to leave Csaba after one semester. In 1973, he won the NCAA sabre championship. Recognizing that his short time with Csaba has advanced his skill significantly, Westbrook returned to Csaba, who also realized that Westbrook, unlike other fencers, didn't require abuse in order to focus and learn because he was a very good listener.
In 1974 as a college senior, Westbrook placed first at the Amateur Fencers League of America's (now known as USA Fencing) National Championships, beating world-class fencers like Alex Orban and Paul Apostol.
Westbrook won the U.S. National Men's Sabre Championship 13 times (1974–'75, '79–'86, '88–'89 and '95). Winning the Nationals made him an internationally recognized fencer.
Pan American Games
In 1975, Westbrook won a silver team medal and a bronze individual medal at the Pan American Games in Mexico City. In 1979, he won a silver team medal. These wins were soon accompanied by his 1983 gold individual medal and silver team medal. From 1987 to 1995, Westbrook won additional silver medals for individual performance (1987); two silver medals for team performance (1987, 1991) and gold medals for individual and team performances (1995).
In 1976, Westbrook attended his first Olympic Games. During pre-competition sparring with another European fencer, Westbrook tore two ligaments. He optimistically saw it as an opportunity to do his best without feeling pressures that comes with being a rising star. He ended the competition ranked 13th among the world's best sabre fencers.
The highlights of his Olympic team career include membership on five Olympic teams and being chosen as flag bearer for the closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. This honor is conferred by a vote by that year's Olympians.
His greatest moments came when he won a bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He describes the match in his book Harnessing Anger this way:
When I walked onto the strip in Los Angeles for my final match against the Frenchman Hervé Granger-Veyron, my adrenaline is pumping ... As the match begins, I get the first touch. I get the second touch. I make it to four, My touches appear to me to be so skillful, so beautiful, that I say to myself, 'I think I'm in the Zone, but I'm not sure. Let me not think about it. ... '. Soon enough, as soon as the thought crosses my mind, the Frenchman gets two points on me. But I snatch the game right back. I get another touch and it's 8-2. Then he gets 8-3, and 8-4. Even as he is gaining, I know the game is mine. All I gotta do is keep riding the tide, keep going with it. I get 9-4, and I finish him off 10-4. The Frenchman falls to his knees crying. When I looked out at the crowd, I could see that the Hungarians, the Italians, and the rest of the Europeans had all turned around. They went from not wanting my win to happen, to being forced to say in their hearts and souls, 'Bravo. Bravo'. That, to me, was incredible.
Peter Westbrook Foundation
The Peter Westbrook Foundation (PWF) is a 501(c)(3), non-operating foundation dedicated to using the sport of fencing as a vehicle to develop life skills in young people from under-served communities. With a specific focus on engaging New York City's low and moderate-income youth, PWF seeks to teach young people good sportsmanship, and to develop their critical thinking skills, strengthen their self-confidence, encourage their maintenance of an active and healthy lifestyle, and support their academic achievement. The foundation was launched in February 1991 at the New York City Fencers Club, which was located on West 71st Street in Manhattan. The first class for the PWF Saturday Fencing Program consisted of six kids, "all of them our own relatives or those of our friends." Within two years the program grew to 40 youth, then 100. In the 2009/10 school year, the PWF served over 400 youth from under-served New York City communities.
The program's staff has included world-class coaches (Csaba Elthes, Boris Lieberman, Yury Gelman, and Aladar Kogler), medalists and Olympians (Michael Lofton, Robert Cottingham, and Eric Rosenberg) and PWF students (Keeth Smart and his sister Erinn Smart, Kamara James, Ivan Lee, Benjamin Bratton, and Nzingha Prescod).
The PWF Elite Athlete Program
In 2000 the Foundation was represented internationally for the first time when Ahki Spencer-el, Keeth Smart, and Keeth Smart's sister Erinn Smart qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. In 2004 four of their students, Keeth Smart, Erinn Smart, Kamara James, and Ivan Lee represented the United States in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. In 2008, Keeth Smart and Erinn Smart represented the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, and both returned home with silver medals.
Ivan Lee won the 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2008 sabre US national championships, and Keeth Smart won the 2004 and 2002 national championship titles and was ranked # 1 in the world in 2003 (the first-ever American to hold this rank). Erinn Smart won the 1998, 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2008 women's foil national championships, and Kamara James was ranked # 1 in the world in women's épée in 2004.
The PWF Academic Enrichment Program
The Academic Enrichment Program provides one-on-one tutorial support, literacy assistance, SAT, PSAT, and specialized high school exam preparation, along with group workshops and productivity seminars on core academic skills, time management, motivational techniques, and homework habits. From October through June, students and tutors meet for 6 to 12 hours each month and receive extra academic support.
In 1997, Westbrook published his memoirs, Harnessing Anger: The Way of an American Fencer in which he describes turning his childhood experiences into a drive to succeed at his sport and the inception of the Peter Westbrook Foundation.
In Harnessing Anger, Westbrook tells how he came to be the first African American to win a national gold title in sabre fencing along with reaching international levels of success. Westbrook describes how as the son of an African-American father and a Japanese mother, he was aided by his mother alone in poverty in a Newark ghetto. Becoming a fencer at an early age gave him the confidence and the discipline to use an ancient martial art to his advantage both in swordplay and when facing the vicissitudes of daily life in the inner city.
The autobiography of this 6-time Olympian, 13-time U.S. National champion is the only book on his amazing life. Harnessing Anger tells us how Westbrook has overcome strong adversaries on and off the fencing strip.
Harnessing Anger: The Way of an American Fencer (1997) was nominated by the American Library Association for its Book of the Year Award.
Westbrook has appeared on the following television programs: Oprah Winfrey Show, Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
Hall of Fame and other honors
Westbrook was inducted into the New York University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985. Westbrook was inducted into the USFA Hall of Fame in 1996. He was also inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey in 2002. In 2021, he was inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame.
- "Olympics Statistics: Peter Westbrook". databaseolympics.com. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- "Peter Westbrook Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- Westbrook, Peter (1998). Harnessing anger : the inner discipline of athletic excellence. Tej Hazarika. New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1-888363-67-3. OCLC 40264723.
- "New York University". Nyu.edu. March 17, 2010. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
- Dr. Robert Goldman (March 13, 2021). "2021 International Sports Hall of Fame Inductees". www.sportshof.org. Retrieved July 14, 2023.