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USA Fencing Board Candidates Respond to WFencing's Questions

Updated: May 15, 2023


Starting May 15 and going to June 5, the USA Fencing is conducting an election for 3 vacancies for Directors-At-Large which is now a 4-year term. WFencing posed four questions to all the candidates and these are their responses:


Donald Alperstein (Denver, Colo.)

Once you become a Director-at-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

As an incumbent Director-at-Large I have supported the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing, and if reelected, I will continue to do so. As I have stated in my campaign materials for both this election and my prior elections, I believe that USA Fencing membership should look like the population of the United States and that USA Fencing leadership should look like the organization’s membership. This means, among other things, bringing more women into the sport at all levels, from beginning athletes, to coaches and officials, and within leadership.

As the author of USA Fencing’s Bylaw establishing the organization’s DEIB Committee and as the movant of changes to remove gender specific pronouns from the Bylaws, the Rules of Competition, and all other USA Fencing documents (a task well underway, but not yet fully completed), I understand both that organizations must articulate and implement their values and that words matter.

I have been a strong promoter of female referees generally and have mentored many women who officiate epee at all levels, from divisions to international competition.

I strongly supported, and worked with Stacey Johnson, in the adoption of the FIE’s requirement that women comprise at least 30% of the membership of all Commissions and Councils.

As a Director, I have publicly advocated (so far with limited success) that USA Fencing not conduct its national competitions in states that discriminate against LBGTQ individuals or that restrict a woman’s right of choice. I consider the latter both a philosophical and practical concern because we should not hold events in any jurisdiction where, for example, a pregnant member of the fencing community could not obtain advisable or desired medical treatment.

As a member of USA Fencing’s Committee Selection Task Force for the last three years, I have advocated for the inclusion of women on the organization’s committees and resource groups, and I have encouraged several women to submit indications of interest in serving in this capacity.

I believe one of the greatest opportunities to increase the participation of women in our sport is through coaching. I support, and will continue to support, initiatives designed to incentivize, introduce, and educate coaches generally, and female coaches in particular.

All of these efforts, and others, are steps in the right direction, but will come to naught without continued commitment, vigilance, and initiatives to increase the role of women in USA Fencing and in the sport in general.


How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

Diversity is the opposite of homogeneity. It means embracing participation by all people who share a common interest without regard to their personal attributes. This encompasses not only ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, but any other attempted categorization used to identify individuals.

Inclusivity: A society, community or organization can be diverse without being inclusive. Inclusiveness describes the status of individuals within the group, requiring that all members have a meaningful voice in discourse and decision making and that the policies of the entity recognize the agency of all members. True inclusiveness requires universal equality of standing and status.

Equity is often confused with equality, but means something else. Equity embraces notions of fairness, conscience, empathy, and history. It means taking steps to recognize, accommodate and overcome a group or individual’s status, background and needs. Equity is the means by which an organization moves toward equality.

How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you have worked within?

To some extent, at least in the context of fencing, I addressed this above, particularly in my response to question number one.


Beyond that, one of the proudest achievements of my USA Fencing presidency from 1996-2000 was achieving recognition of women’s sabre as a Division1 championship. Further, during the ensuing 12 years, I served as legal counsel and advisor to three female presidents of USA Fencing: Stacey Johnson, Nancy Anderson, and Kalle Weeks and helped advance their respective agendas.


As a Board member, I have advocated for concepts espoused in USA Fencing’s DEIB policy and practices. Perhaps most important, I have tried withing my roles as a referee, as a Director, and in other capacities to lead by example in recognizing and implementing these values.


What’s one thing people would be surprised about you?

Women have played a very important roles in my professional life. My first employer after being licensed as an attorney, and my principal professional mentor until she passed away, was Aurel M. Kelly, the first female appellate judge in Colorado. Cynthia Covell and I started our law firm in 1985, and have been equal partners since then; she is one of the best people and one of the best lawyers I have ever known, and I have been privileged to be associated with her for these many years. I am proud of the fact that half of the lawyers in our firm are women, and that the firm is half owned by women.

Igor Chirashnya (San Jose, Calif.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

Women deserve an equal place in fencing, unequivocally. In order to support women in fencing today, we have to make sense of what the landscape looks like. In our club, almost 50% of the staff (6/13) are women, including the CEO. More than half of our students are girls and women. For me, this is the first step (and only the first step) to real equity. I co-run Academy of Fencing Masters with my inimitable wife Irina, the CEO of our club.


As a member of the Board, I would specifically seek out women’s counsel to uncover places of inequity in the fencing world. Listening to women and believing them when they say there are issues must be first and foremost for the board.


It’s far too easy for us to say “well, women’s divisions are included in the Olympics for every weapon now, our work is done.” There is so much more to do. I would like to see USA Fencing roll out specific programs to encourage mentorship, as well as being conscious about highlighting women’s achievements in the sport. Some of our highest profile and most accomplished fencers are women, and that means we have a great foundation to build on.


How do you define Diversity, IInclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity within the USA Fencing community is how we attract and then support fencers from backgrounds who have not traditionally been able to become fencers due to exclusionary practices in the wider culture. In my view, whatever a person’s qualities are that’s what defines this person. At the same time, I understand what a huge and complex issue this is. Though I have been in the United States for many years, as an immigrant I recognize that there is a lot about American culture in terms of DEI that requires me to listen to others in order to understand. Because of that, my ear is always open. It’s important that we listen to people within and on the edge of the fencing community first and foremost in this area.


DEI in fencing has everything to do with access. Hands down the biggest issue we have currently is that there are not enough qualified coaches seated in quality clubs in every area. We are lacking in the bandwidth to support diverse populations, and that’s a big problem. Financial barriers are another part of the problem, and we must find real solutions to address the institutional problems that form a wall around sport. We can’t fix society, but we can mitigate the issues as much as possible.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

Our fencing club in the past has run community programs to bring in fencers who would traditionally be excluded. For three years (with the exception of the pandemic), AFM ran our Introduction to Fencing Program at the City of San Jose Community Centers. We’ve also run outreach summer camps for beginner fencers out of these centers. These two efforts give an opportunity for kids who might otherwise not have access to fencing to try the sport out.


I believe in the power of community to affect change. For two years now, we have run benefit tournaments that provided direct support for fighters against the tyrannical war in Ukraine. We also partnered with Ukrainian fencers to get them equipment as their country is thrust into turmoil. These kinds of programs can work closer to home, too.


We practice consciously inclusive instruction and outreach within AFM. Part of that service includes the way that we spread information through the AFM blog. By giving fencers all across the country access to high quality information about the sport, we are making a real difference in how people are able to come to fencing. It’s the opposite of gatekeeping, and that kind of transparency and facilitation are critical to making the sport more accessible.


What’s one thing people would be surprised about you?

People are often surprised to know that I had and have an entirely different life in the corporate world. Most people know me from my work with AFM online and in person at competitions all over the country, but I’m actually a business guy who pivoted because of my passion. I’ve driven those big deals in the business world and navigated the complicated world of tech and the often challenging personalities that come from that. Fencing bouts are intense, but even at their fiercest they are calm compared to corporate mergers and buyouts!

Andrey Geva (Houston, Texas)

Did not respond.

Selina Kaing (Cupertino, Calif.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

As an individual who identifies as a diverse woman, I am a strong advocate for representation across multiple levels of the organization and remain deeply committed to this as an operating principle. The first level is advocacy and opportunity across USA Fencing’s committees and resource groups which should reflect the mosaic of our fencing community. Last year, I was appointed to chair the Task Force on Committees & Resource Groups to review applications and make data-driven recommendations to the Board on committee member selection with an emphasis on ensuring diverse group composition. My final report (available as part of the 2022 USA Fencing’s annual Board meeting minutes) included recommendations for future process improvements and intentionality with regards to recruitment of key positions and I intend to continue on the positive momentum we’ve gained. Secondly, I’ve played a strong recruitment and advocacy role for diverse candidates that are appointed to the Board of Directors (we recently appointed a woman and an African American as our independent directors and interviewed many more diverse candidates as part of the process) and also added another woman to our US Fencing Foundation trustee board. Lastly, making more resources available to advance women in the sport is something I’m also passionate about and as part of my work with the US Fencing Foundation, I’ve seeded a grant for the development of women fencing coaches and am looking forward to launching this program later this year.


How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

USA Fencing has done a great initial job of focusing on DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging) with the creation of the DEIB Committee and the launch of many great initiatives (affinity councils, regular pulse surveys, new DEIB club awards, etc.). The fencing community not only needs to continue and support this work, we must also have a strategy to amplify and infuse this mindset into all levels of the sport. This really means focusing on the “B” - belonging. Inclusion is about valuing an individual’s unique ideas, lived experiences, and ensuring everyone feels involved, respected, connected, and have their voice be heard. Belonging, however, is about creating a distinct culture where people can be themselves, have psychological safety, appreciate each other, and feel part of something bigger. I’m very cognizant that managing the shift from launching to sustaining DEIB is really important as our sport continues to grow and that we continually exercise the organizational muscle for building an inclusive mindset towards operations, processes, and people for the long term.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

My current involvement with both the USA Fencing board and US Fencing Foundation centers around bringing a diverse perspective from both a personal and professional aspect. Through my work chairing various task forces or advising committees, I’ve been deliberate and intentional about ensuring diverse representation in the committees or forums where our amazing fencing community volunteers and identifying areas where resources are needed to drive change. I’m particularly excited to have the support from our US Fencing Foundation leadership on seeding the grant program for women fencing coaches and amplifying the growth efforts in an area that will directly impact our sport.


As a minority woman, fostering a culture of DEIB is also something that I infuse into all aspects of my professional work. I help lead supplier diversity initiatives as part of my professional career and work as part of a team involved in realizing our company’s commitment to spending $1B+ with diverse and women-owned businesses. I believe that it’s important to embody these values across multiple dimensions and feel privileged to be in a position to advocate for these changes.


What’s one thing people would be surprised about you?

I grew up making and selling donuts alongside my parents in a small shop they were proud to own during my childhood. My family were refugees from Cambodia and before that we had never even seen or eaten a donut!

Nancy Kirkpatrick (Vandalia, Ohio)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

Yes, I support the advancement of women within USA Fencing. I would suggest a multi-pronged approach which includes promoting more female fencers on social media, fostering a more inclusive culture in the sport, and doing targeted outreach. I also believe this approach could be used to increase participation in the sport from other historically excluded communities.

How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

I define diversity as having a community that is not homogeneous and instead reflects the world in which we live. Diversity can encompass gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, ability, age and more. Equity occurs when everyone, no matter the categories by which they are defined, has equal access and opportunity to participate in society or, in this case, fencing. Systems must be equitable in order for that to happen. And when they are, it is easier to create a sense of Inclusion or belonging for the individuals involved in the activity. An Inclusive fencing community would be open and welcoming to all who want to participate.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

I am new to the fencing community in any capacity other than parent spectator and cheerleader. However, I have been an agent for culture change at every organization I have led, as well as in my profession, for over a decade. My work is demonstrated in my actions and my writing. Here is one example (linked), and you can read through other Director's Desk posts to get an idea of how I am trying to impact and influence culture in my profession inside and outside of my organization.


What’s one thing people would be surprised about you?

People are usually surprised to learn that I am an introvert, given how social I can be when necessary. And people are sometimes surprised by my competitive nature.


Ivan Lee OLY (Cambria Heights, N.Y.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

I will support both the increase of numbers and advancement of anyone who is qualified to serve in the capacity for which he or she is seeking to serve. It would not be right of me, as a director on this board, to support any individual for any position or committee on the basis of any one demographic. It is important that our organization seek to find the best qualified individuals for the various open committees and positions that exist. Education, social skills, and a variety of experiences should be the key factors considered. It is important to note that USA Fencing, as an organization, is in extremely good shape in several different areas today, because of the work, efforts and contributions made by the people who’ve been hired or elected to serve, many of whom are women. Most notably, Tasha Martin, chair of the Referees’ Commission, is doing a phenomenal job leading the largest organized body of certified fencing referees in the world today.


How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

I define DEI within the fencing community the same way I define it anywhere else. It’s an environment where all people, regardless of any demographic we choose to emphasize, can participate in the capacity they wish within our community, without fear of being targeted or ostracized because of said demographic.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

I’ve spent my time within the fencing community advocating for progress and betterment while maintaining respect for all others involved. That’s a culture that should never be changed.


What’s one thing people would be surprised about you?

In addition to being an Olympian, Hall of Famer and coach, I’m also a founding board member of a charter school in the Bronx and a deacon at my local church.


Damien Lehfeldt (Alexandria, Va.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

Not only will I support the advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing, but I believe this to be a top priority of the national governing body (NGB). In a few aspects of the Fencing community, I’d like to touch on how we could better promote women professionals.

In Refereeing: Over the years, we have lost a number of talented, top-tier female referees in fencing due to a toxically misogynistic work culture and a performance management process that is not amenable to working mothers. This is unacceptable and it must change.


As you may know, referee performance ratings and pay grades are determined based on the performance of the previous season alone. Though not explicitly stated in the referee performance criteria, referees are expected to show up at multiple events per season to be promoted, requiring them to be away from their families and often use valuable vacation time to do so.


Let us assume for a moment that a referee on the verge of being promoted to an “N1” rating becomes pregnant and does not want to risk being exposed to Covid or other viruses during their pregnancy. Or perhaps, that referee wants to take a year off from competition following the birth of their child to bond and fulfill the child’s needs. If the Referees Commission (RC) is only looking at the performance of that referee in the previous year, then that promising referee on the verge of promotion is more likely to be left behind.


If elected, I will propose a three-year performance management window so that “demonstrated competency” as stated in the performance management criteria measures referee performance and growth over an extended period of time and allows for working parents on a solid refereeing trajectory to prioritize family, mental health, or other extenuating circumstances that may take them away from the sport.


Further, there is a lot of inherent bias in this current process where referees are evaluated on mostly subjective criteria. I will be proposing a system that tracks the number of high-level bouts refereed during the theoretical three-year performance window so that performance management becomes more quantitative and less qualitative.


I will also be proposing that the black card review group offers more severe sanctions to coaches and athletes who operate in a chauvinistic or bigoted manner. When, for example, a parent only receives a 60-day ban for calling a female referee a “c**t” and then sends her threatening Facebook messages afterwards, such light sanctions do not truly deter such unacceptable behaviors.


Lastly, I will be proposing to the RC to place dangerous offenders who were not caught by the SafeSport process on a “do not hire” list. Referees who commit sexual assaults of female coaches, or referees who went to prison for domestic violence (these are not hypotheticals, these are real) will not have a place on any future hiring list. Their victims must be able to attend tournaments without having to see their traumatizers right in front of them.

In Coaching: As of my writing this submission to WFencing, there are only 6 female fencing masters in this country. This painfully low number does not reflect the fact that women raise the bar for competitive excellence in our country (see Mariel Zagunis and Lee Kiefer, the most accomplished fencers in American history, for instance).


I believe we must increase the number of women fencing masters in this country in order to promote gender equity and normalize women in positions of fencing leadership.

I am currently advising Maitre Vinnie Bradford, Executive Director of the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA) on new National Coaching Development Program (NCDP) standards in order to remove barriers to entry in the coaching certification process while also making the certification standards clearer, more objective, and financially viable. In November of 2022, I hosted a town hall forum with Vinnie and members of the USFCA to solicit feedback from the community and help promote these standards. In the forum, I specifically alluded to the Oldham incident as a perfect example of why we need to normalize women in leadership in the sport to promote gender equity.


I also currently sit on the USA Fencing Coaching Development Advisory Committee which is tasked with developing baseline coaching standards for professional members of the organization. While the Committee is in its nascent stages, in the first meetings, I have advocated for required coach training on ethics, awareness of power dynamics/power imbalances, and promoting a healthy, emotionally positive environment in the fencing club.

While I am currently a Prevot and unable to certify Masters, I have a personal goal to certify at least 50 female fencing masters by the time I’m 6 feet under.


As a Prospective Board Member: In my candidate statement for Board of Directors, I listed inclusivity as my most important operating principle and on the issues, I noted that my top priority was to take the Chair of the DEIB Committee and make them an automatic voting member of the Board. I also noted the importance of having liaisons from the DEIB Committee embedded on every single standing Committee, Task Force, and Working group in order to promote diverse perspectives across the entire Governance wing of USA Fencing.


How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

The short answer is, USA Fencing is enabled and empowered by our diversity, but we have a long way to go to be a truly equitable and inclusive community.

The beauty of USA Fencing is that much of its success comes as a direct result of diversity, in every sense of the word. We are a multicultural community empowered by immigrants and the ultimate melting pot sport.


To demonstrate this, look no further than Lee Kiefer’s Tokyo Olympic Gold Medal win. Kiefer is Filipino-American and coached by Amgad Khazbak who is an Egyptian immigrant of Muslim faith. And when Kiefer and Team USA won the 2018 World Championships in Wuxi, China, that team comprised of Kiefer, Nzingha Prescod (who is Black) and Nicole Ross (an Ashkenazi Jew).


Unlike Italy, Hungary, Russia, France, and others that have pedagogies and styles associated with each, there is no “American Fencing style” as we are strategically positioned to inherit the best ideas of global fencing schools, mash them together, and make them our own.


Though we are enabled and empowered by the diversity of culture in Fencing, inclusivity and equity remain areas of opportunity. As I re-read the most recent WFencing Report Card published in 2019-2020, little has changed and there is still opportunity to improve on these areas to get the sport we love to a more equitable state.


· When the WFencing Report Card was released, referees in the national cadre clocked in at 28.9% and received a C- rating. That number has actually gone down to 20.1% (membership list pulled in January, 2023 and filtered down to referees holding an N1 or N2 rating). In fact, only 31 women hold an N1 rating, accounting for just under 17% of N1’s.


· NCAA Coaching represents an area where gender equity has improved but still in need of better representation. Since the past WFencing report card was published, a number of female coaches have taken over collegiate programs, including:

o Jennie Salmon at Brandeis (replaced Bill Shipman)

o Elif Sachs at Brandeis (replaced Jennie Salmon)

o Jennie Salmon at Temple (replaced Nikki Franke)

o Christine Griffiths at Cleveland State (replaced Andy Tulleners)

o Daria Snyder at Harvard (replaced Peter Brand)

o Ariana Klinkov at Cornell (replaced Daria Snyder)

The rise in female NCAA coaches is a positive, but more room for improvement exists. Jen Oldham and Ivan Lee put together a list of criteria for evaluating qualifications of prospective NCAA coaches that I believe every university should adopt.


· As of the WFencing report card publication, there were 7 female fencing masters certified by the USFCA. As of my writing this, that number is 8. I mentioned some solutions above, but I am hopeful the NCDP standards in development will create more objectivity in the coach evaluation/certification process and increase our female fencing master pipeline.


· We have one woman on the national coaching staff (Natalie Dostert). She has been incredibly successful thus far (and a pleasure to work with and learn from, I might add!). The remaining para-fencing and able-bodied fencing staff is men. This presents an area of opportunity for gender equity.


There are some areas we’ve seen progression in since the last WFencing report card, but we could do far better in getting us to an ideal state with equity and inclusivity.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

In my professional capacity, my job is literally to manage change (be it cultural, technological or organizational). It is an area of subject matter expertise and one that I will look forward to applying across USA Fencing if I am elected to the Board.


Since founding “The Fencing Coach” blog in 2013, I have regularly advocated for culture change not only in Fencing, but in every job I’ve worked in. I am keenly aware of the privilege that comes from being a white male that grew up in a well-to-do household, and I believe that everybody in Fencing deserves the same experience I had. Some of the select articles and advocacy I’d like to share with you can be found below:

Year

Article/Action

Advocacy

Impact


2018 – Regarding Sexual Harassment in Assault in Fencing

Surveyed coaches, athletes, tournament staff to understand experiences with sexual assault and harassment in fencing. Published a 3-part expose with the findings.

This report was cited in a lawsuit against Music City Fencing Club following allegations against its owner for sexual misconduct.


2022 – All That’s Wrong with the 2022-2023 NAC Schedule: in Four Maps

Urged the NGB to reconsider holding NAC’s in areas with regressive LGBTQ policies and states that do not recognize a woman’s right to an abortion.

Three months after publication, USA Fencing changed their policies to give preference to more inclusive states in NAC selection.


2017 – Harkey/SwordMasters racism incident

Following publicly racist comments made by the owner of a major fencing vendor, I published that owner’s comments for the community to see and informed the President of USA Fencing so this vendor could be removed from the official list.

Harkey sold the company, and USA Fencing removed them as an official vendor.


2022-Present – Hall of Fame Committee

In my first year, nominated the late Kamara James, one of the most decorated Black female epeeists in USA Fencing history. Also voted “yes” on Jen Oldham’s nomination of Charlotte Remenyik, a legendary coach who fought abuse at Ohio State University.

This year, I nominated two more minority athletes and a female veteran fencer. Due to the Committee being in the deliberation phase, I cannot name those names publicly at this time.

Both Kamara James and Charlotte Remenyik were elected 1st ballot Hall of Famers.


2018-2022 – ProtonMailer

From 2018-2022, an anonymous member of the Fencing community harassed at least 25 members of USA Fencing with anonymous, untraceable emails that barraged them with racist, xenophobic, hateful, and sexually explicit messages. I spent free time sleuthing to determine the sender of these emails and smoke them out of anonymity.

The parent responsible for sending these emails was caught and received a lifetime ban.


2022-Present – Strategy and Analytics

Realizing that USA Fencing had not won an individual Olympic Medal in Epee since 1924, created a data and analytics program from scratch to understand gaps and develop strategies to beat the World’s toughest opponents

Published thesis and international trends article; hired to Team USA, currently using data to make scouting reports that have been used against top opponents.


2019 – Hiring Practices

In my professional career, I worked for a Richmond consulting startup from 2017-2020. As a member of the leadership team, I proposed we add at least two minority candidates for each open job requisition to increase diversity.

Following the new hiring policy, minority hires increased in my tenure by 20%.


What’s one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

After college when I was a little burnt out on Fencing, I began training in boxing and actually became a certified boxing coach. I competed in six amateur boxing matches, going 5-0-1 (let’s be real, that one draw should have been a loss, I got my butt kicked). I used to spar almost daily with Shaun Thornton, a former player for the Boston Bruins.

I’m also a decent self-taught guitarist and pianist!

Ann Marsh-Senic OLY (Royal Oak, Mich.)

Did not respond.

Joanne Pasternack (San Jose, Calif.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

I will absolutely and without question support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing. Professionally and personally, this is a crucial point of focus for me. I am a mother to a daughter who fences (and a son who doesn’t!), admirer of my daughter’s amazing current female coach (Nada Mostafa) as well as her wonderful early fencing mentor from San Jose (Betsy Madrid). I deeply believe that our aspiring fencers not only benefit from the leadership of women in the sport but also will develop a stronger sense of their own potential inside and outside of fencing through role modeling. I grew up competing in figure skating – a sport where most of the participants were female but nearly all of the elite coaches were male. In figure skating, our governing board leadership, judges, and officials were nearly all male, teaching me to defer to men in leadership versus aspiring to be a woman leader. I didn’t have role models to follow, nor did we have SafeSport Training. As a result, many of us who grew up in similar sports in the 1980s/1990s are left with lingering trauma and insecurities from misinformed, misguided, and – at times – opportunistic adults who were in leadership roles. It took years for me to find my voice! For my daughter and all the other young people growing up in fencing, they need more women they can look up to inside and outside of our sport.

Increasing the number of women professionals in USA Fencing begins with clear developmental pathways. From a young age, USA Fencing should provide refereeing, coaching, and leadership training and programming. Create leadership roles at the club level, regional level, and national level for youth and teens. If you always believe you are capable of leadership, you will pursue it in a more deliberate manner.


USA Fencing should host women-centered retreats and trainings at NACs and other competitions where there will be individuals (e.g. parents, veterans, college-age athletes). Our veteran fencers are a phenomenal resource for leadership development. Re. coaching – our collegiate and high school athletes who have made a strong commitment to the sport but who may not be pursuing it in a competitive manner after school should be offered the opportunity to receive leadership development training, coaching certification, and referee mentoring in micro-increments to introduce them to the opportunity. When interest is peaked, the next round of training and certification will help them to continue to pursue the leadership path.

USA Fencing needs to do more than just celebrate the diversity in our sport, we need to actively pursue increasing the diversity by expanding high school competitive programs for girls and boys; partnering with youth-serving organizations like Girl Scouts of America, Boys & Girls Clubs, and Girls Inc. to create new pipelines for introductions to fencing; collaborations with resources for gently used and new equipment such as Leveling the Playing Field and Alliance Fencing; and sourcing funding to support additional scholarships.


Creating diversity and gender equity within our sport requires commitment from the entire organization and resources at the highest levels of competition along with the most basic introductory programs. I have successfully worked on numerous efforts in this space throughout my career and am excited to take on the challenge of bringing my learnings to USA Fencing.


How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

I am a vocal advocate for gender parity, abilities inclusion, LGBTQIA+, amplification of marginalized or under-recognized voices, leadership development for girls, and equity for women. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at its core means everyone is invited to the table, has the opportunity to participate, and feels heard and valued. While the commitment to DEI in USA Fencing has been improving, there is still a tremendous amount of room for development. Our dedication to athletic excellence should be achieved in concert with our commitment to DEI. As a community, we should ensure that each and every member of USA Fencing’s extended family has the FULL opportunity to participate and thrive in our ecosystem.

The University of Michigan has a template for developing DEI programming that I have long admired. I share it below as a model for how USA Fencing can further develop our approach to purposefully creating room for growth:

  • Diversity: We commit to increasing diversity, which is expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status and political perspective.

  • Equity: We commit to working actively to challenge and respond to bias, harassment, and discrimination. We are committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status.

  • Inclusion: We commit to pursuing deliberate efforts to ensure that our campus is a place where differences are welcomed, different perspectives are respectfully heard and where every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. We know that by building a critical mass of diverse groups on campus and creating a vibrant climate of inclusiveness, we can more effectively leverage the resources of diversity to advance our collective capabilities. (Source – LINK)

USA Fencing is a community comprised of people from diverse backgrounds – ethnically, linguistically, neurologically, economically, and geographically. When we come together as a unit, we have the opportunity to launch the sport into even greater realms of possibility and potential.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

The core focus of my career has been amplifying voices to inspire change and support equity. While in college and law school, I focused on public interest law, sociology, women’s studies, and Spanish. All of my internships were focused on advancing marginalized individuals and populations – the Children’s Defense Fund, Women’s Law Center, the ACLU, The Nature Conservancy, Santa Clara University School of Law’s Worker’s Rights Clinic, and more. When graduating from law school, I was awarded the Pro Bono Scholar Award as well as certification as Public Interest Law Scholar.


Following graduation, I worked for the Special Olympics at their global headquarters in Washington, DC as Manager of International Corporate Partnerships. In this role, I developed partnerships to support growth and financial strength of programming for individuals with intellectual disabilities. I have remained an active member of the Special Olympics movement since, serving on the board of directors and as a volunteer. I am also currently working with the Lakeshore Center to create a dedicated state-of-the-art and highly resourced home for aspiring USA Wheelchair Fencing athletes.


In the years that followed, I launched a Police Activities League in Mountain View, California as part of my role as a Senior Analyst with the city. The objective of the PAL was to build bridges between divergent communities.


After six years with the city, I moved to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers as their Director of Community Relations. Over the next nine years, I was promoted regularly, eventually elevating to the role of Vice President – Community Relations and Executive Director – San Francisco 49ers Foundation. While there, I built external facing programming, internal collaborations, sponsorship engagements, fundraising vehicles, spirit, visibility, and impact. Under my leadership, the 49ers were awarded national and international awards for our impact-based programming.


At the conclusion of the 2017 season, I moved to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors as a member of their executive leadership team and overseeing all philanthropic, community engagement, fan development, youth outreach, and player integrated programming. While there, I was selected for a national Changemaker in Sports Award by Sports Business Journal.


In 2020, I launched Oliver+Rose and Athletes’ Voices to focus exclusively on advocacy, engagement, community building, and creating connections. Clients include athletes from every major sports league, the Olympic and Paralympic movements, Women’s National Football Conference, USA Fencing, and Hall of Fame NFL and NBA players along with lesser-known individuals, teams, and leagues, like the former captain of the Afghani National Women’s Soccer Team or the co-captain of the Women’s Deaflympics Ice Hockey team.


What’s one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

My kids would say it’s my ability to recite all 50 states in alphabetical order in under 23 seconds (or the fact that I have spent time in 50+ countries and 48 of the 50 states). My mother would likely note that I was recruited to join the Ice Capades after graduating from high school (I decided to go straight to college instead!). My husband would say it’s my uncanny ability to find anything and anyone with little to no notice (and in a very calm fashion). To me, however, it’s that I spent my entire childhood hating my red, curly hair (and trying to control it!), only to realize as an adult that it was one of the most important aspects of me and my uniqueness. As I now share with groups – especially middle school girls – the thing you dislike the most about yourself as a child or teen is likely the exact element that will make you successful in the future.

Abdel Salem OLY-Egypt (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

As a coach, former president of the USFCA, and current member of the USA Fencing Board, I have always worked to advance women professionals in our sport. We have exceptional women in our organization, and they have proven themselves more than capable of overseeing any role our organization has.

I want to see an increase in women who coach at clubs, colleges, and on our national teams. Our organization needs to increase the number of women referees. While we have women on the referee commission we should work to include more. We must work harder to retain all our referees.


We should celebrate women coaches, referees, and other cadre in our online presence, throughout the year. I think the meetings that WFencing is holding during the national events is a great way to spread information, training, encouragement, and support. We could obtain grants to do this at the local level as well. We need to give women the opportunity, and not tolerate anyone that might discourage or disrespect them. When we push our women away, they leave because they could be very successful anywhere they go, and that would be a big loss for our organization. Women professionals don't need special treatment, they only need the respect that is their due. US Fencing needs to utilize the talents and qualifications of every person in our organization.

How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity within the USA Fencing community?

Diversity is a strength for any organization or culture. Organizations are more successful when they welcome diversity of thought, experience, and ideas. US Fencing should do no less.


I have been involved in fencing for a long time, as a fencer, coach, referee, and parent. As a person of color, I have seen improvement through the years in how our organization incorporates human differences. This can still be improved. The fencing community is well educated, and a good group of people. We need open communication that members feel comfortable with. We must continue enlightening our membership and provide policies that help teach acceptance. We must also show that we will enforce rules and provide consequences for whomever violates them.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

Organizations are defined in part by their culture. It motivates individuals, gives them drive and energy. While we must appreciate the strengths of our organization we must also not be intimidated to change.


Change is essential, our leadership should be open minded and appreciate and support every qualified person in our organization. As I was stepping down as president of the USFCA I was convinced that the best person to continue the work and steer the organization was Maître Caroline Gresham-Fiegel. Unfortunately, things did not work out that way.


The US Air Force Academy is one of the most powerful organizations in the world. I was the head fencing coach for men and women for 21 years. During this time, I regularly put women in leadership roles. They led both women and men. These women were wonderful, some of them became fighter pilots and some of them are now in very high positions leading the Air Force. These women are examples of resilience, determination, and strength. They are examples of success. They love their country and enjoy what they are doing, even if it is extremely dangerous. The Air Force is proud of them, as we all need to be. I also chose several female assistant coaches. I was convinced that if the men and women worked together it would be better for the program.


When I first started my coaching career, I had the opportunity to coach women’s epee. This may seem quite ordinary today, but it was a time when several coaches refused to do so. Women saber fencers found a similar culture, but I coached that too. I believe we need to support and foster the women in our organization and allow them to shine.


What’s one thing people would be surprised about you?

My leadership style and skills have continually evolved over the years. I feel that I did not really get a chance to show it during my first term as a board member. I was hoping to be on the high-performance committee and be involved in the coaches’ education program. Sadly, I was not chosen for those but have worked hard in the interests of the membership. I suppose my unwavering optimism and determination is what would surprise people. I believe we have taken some positive steps in the last two years, but we still need to make many changes to allow this organization to go from good to great.

Richard Weiss (Fairfax, Va.)

Once you become a Director-At-Large, will you support the increase of numbers and support for the advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing? How would you do this?

Yes, absolutely. If elected, I would seek to become the board liaison to the FenceSafe Resource Team, a USA Fencing committee I have served on every year it’s existed excluding the initial one. I feel that fundamental changes in the roles of the members of the FenceSafe committee (from historically passive and underutilized to active) will create a safer environment for women professionals in our community, and ultimately support the advancement of women professionals within USA Fencing.


Further, I’d push hard to implement some of the initiatives we’ve taken on in the Virginia Division in my role as Chair. At this writing, we hold a woman-led referee clinic at least once a year (we hold two introductory referee clinics each season). For those who take our clinics, we refund the total cost of the clinic including the membership upgrade and background check when they referee three Virginia or other local division/regional events. We strongly promote referee development which is a key component of our current division operating guide. We were also one of the first divisions to create a DEI committee, before the requirement of a DEI contact at the division level.


Since we’ve come back to local fencing post-pandemic, I asked our executive committee to allow me to take over managing the collegiate club tournament network in our state. We converted these events into fundraisers that were backed by the division and in the past two seasons these events have been the largest local events in the state raising over $10K for these clubs to help fund their programs annually. I believe strongly this will help solidify the current collegiate club network and in time establish other collegiate club or NCAA programs supporting the advancement of women professionals in my region and nationally.


How do you define Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity (DEI) within the USA Fencing community?

I frankly really like how USA Fencing has redefined DEI(B) and I appreciate how we are finally starting to take a serious look at our community in its entirety. If I had to answer this question a year ago my response would have been substantially different, more detailed, and a lot more concerned about the direction our organization was moving. I am personally excited with the recent staff changes at every level (particularly Shannon Jolly) and genuinely feel like USA Fencing is so much more fundamentally prepared to develop and integrate DEIB initiatives into our culture at every level of the organization.As the proud parent of an LGBTQ+ young adult, I recognize that not everyone in our community has support at home or a safe social network, and having the opportunity to work with people to develop and provide safe spaces for anyone “regardless” is embedded into pretty much everything I do, and in all of my engagement in our community and others I volunteer in.


How have you been an advocate for culture change within fencing or any community you've worked within?

I am fortunate that my career allows me to volunteer for many communities inside and outside of ours. I am a contributing member and volunteer for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and have been active in several political campaigns. Those roles have included: 1) running state-wide volunteer engagement for the first openly gay presidential candidate in 2020. During that campaign, I traveled as a volunteer throughout the US to talk about this candidate's “Rules of the Road” which include Respect, Belonging, Truth, Teamwork, Boldness, Responsibility, Substance, Discipline, Excellence, and Joy.


I have also been the statewide regional organizer for a Lt. Governor candidate I committed to while he was president of my county NAACP. These two experiences were amazing educational experiences, but also admittedly painfully tiring. Today, I find myself an elected executive committee member of a very diverse countywide political party in charge of voter education for roughly a million registered voters about elections and where and how to vote! I feel strongly that I’ve become an active modeler of inclusion and acceptance and continue to take actions that align with these values.


What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

This may not be a surprise for some, but I have been fortunate enough to turn a passion into a bit of a career. Shortly after finishing grad school and having been bought out of a company I had founded, I found myself wondering what my next venture would be. I found out the hard way how difficult it was to get into the wine industry in the US unless you were funding it, I decided on a bit of a whim with two friends to hop on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa, and spent a few weeks tasting wines from a place that has never seen much exposure in the US. Reception and support for the wines were very encouraging, so I became a wine importer and sold my brands in 25+ markets at their peak. Over the eight-plus years, I traveled to South Africa fourteen times, developed a charity wine program to support the purchase of bed nets to prevent malaria, and can honestly say that many of those experiences in the wine business have defined who I am today.



Voting for in USA Fencing At-Large Board of Directors Election will take place from May 15 to June 5, 2023.


An earlier version of this post was made without all of candidates' replies. The post was unpublished so all responses provided could be included. Our sincere apologies for this error! We followed up again with all candidates. All replies received by the publication deadline have been included. Our gratitude and thanks to the candidates for their patience and participation with our process.


If any candidates would like to add their response to this article please email us at info@wfencing.org.


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