7 Things To Know About Brooklyn-Born Fencer Nzingha Prescod Before Rio

July 20, 2016  |  

When you think about women Olympians going to Rio next month, you hear about the usual lauded ladies: Gabby, Simone, Serena, Allyson, and so on and so forth. They’re pretty awesome, right? But there are quite a few gifted women of color you may not have heard of yet who will be competing for the United States in sports that don’t often feature Black women front and center. That includes fencing. But 23-year-old Nzingha Prescod is hoping to change the elitist image of the sport and take home gold at the same time. Here are seven things you need to know about the Brooklyn-bred athlete leading up to the Olympics in Rio.

She started fencing as one of many activities meant to keep her out of trouble.

Raised by a single mom in Brooklyn, according to The New York Times, Prescod and her older sister took part in a little bit of everything and had packed schedules. They tried their hand at piano, gymnastics, karate, swimming and ballet. Prescod’s mother was hoping to keep the girls away from trouble by keeping them busy.

When her mother heard about the Peter Westbrook Foundation and its work as a nonprofit to offer young people from underserved communities the chance to try fencing and be tutored, she signed Nzingha up. After a year of taking free lessons, she won a national championship at the age of nine.

She’s named after a queen.

As she told ESPN The Magazine: “I’m named after a 17th-century queen from Angola, Nzinga Mbande. During the colonial period, the Europeans would try to come to Africa and take their land, and she defended her territory. I think it’s not a coincidence that I’m named Nzingha and I go off with my sword and fight people for my country. I was always told that I’m a strong woman, and I was named after a strong woman, and I think it’s not a coincidence that I’ve become this top fencer.”

She may have some history-making blood in her lineage.

According to AmericanSport.net, Prescod is “believed to be” a relative of Samuel Jackman Prescod. Considered a national hero in Barbados, Samuel was the first person of African descent to be elected to Barbados’ Parliament back in 1843. He also helped to found the Liberal party.

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She’s pretty groundbreaking.

At the 2013 Grand Prix, Prescod became the first American woman to earn a gold medal for foil (one of the weapons used in fencing). In 2015, she was the first Black woman to take home an individual medal at the Senior World Championships.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Sounds like she’s following in Samuel’s footsteps! When she wasn’t training, Prescod went to Columbia University and studied her way to a degree in political science in 2015. Her emphasis? Race and ethnicity. She’s hoping to pursue a career in policy work.

She’s teeny, but packs a lot of punch.

Prescod is only 5’4″ and 138 pounds. But after years of doing ballet and gymnastics (thanks, mama Prescod!), the Olympian became very flexible, making her more than capable, with her strong legs, to lunge to great lengths at her opponents.

She’s hoping to inspire Black girls.

As she told ESPN The Magazine, aside from winning gold, she wants to show young black girls that they can do anything. “I want to show them that they can do this and give them a platform to achieve. Erinn Smart [a black fencer who won a silver medal at the 2008 Games] has done that for me. I don’t know without her what I would be doing. She made it very clear that this was possible. I saw her have success when she was training and competing, so I knew what I was working toward was achievable.”

We’ll be rooting for Prescod next month. It’s great to see her as the new face of fencing.

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