Watching Daryl Homer fence is like watching a very dangerous dance. Forward, back, don’t get stabbed. The footwork is insane, and Homer’s desperately light on his feet. When he senses an opening, he leaps forward, sword outstretched. For a moment, he is suspended in air – pros call this move a “flunge” but to us, it looks like flying. Gravity bends its rules for Homer.
“Anytime you put a sword in a kid’s hand – they’re going to have fun,” jokes Daryl Homer in the middle of a workout. At twenty-eight, Homer is an Olympic sabre fencer and a living proof of what can happen when you put a weapon in the right hands.
As a child, Homer would watch cartoons like “Hercules and Xena” on TV. An expat from Mt. Olympus forced to prove himself through wonderous physical feats? Homer was paying attention. He was living in the Bronx when, at five, he came upon a word and a photo of two men-in-white sword fighting. “[My mom] kinda laughed it off,” he told ULTRA. It wasn’t until the pair saw a TV ad with two Black fencers battling for a city cab that something clicked. That night, his mother hit the Yellow Pages.
Today, suspended among titanium gym equipment in Manhattan’s Riverside Park prepping for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Daryl Homer resembles the Greek heroes he idolized. A brand ambassador for Ralph Lauren and Lululemon, he looks a little different from a kid who used to wear “Air Force Ones and long white tees” to practice each Saturday. But it was there, at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, that a future champion got his start.
After earning a fencing scholarship to study at St. John’s University in Queens, Homer’s star began to rise. He juggled 7AM classes and a rigorous training schedule, and by the time he was a sophomore he had earned a NCAA title. Then by his junior year, he was in London at the 2012 Summer Olympics. “We were really young,” he admits, “I think that your first game is getting your feet wet.” He didn’t snag a medal, but the next four years, his feet got soaked.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Homer took home the silver medal in men’s sabre – the first American to do so in over a century. “We kind of matured together [in Rio],” he tells ULTRA.
Fencing is a sport famously dominated by Europeans, read: white people. But Homer’s introduction to the sport was different. “My first experience fencing was literally all kids from Harlem and Brooklyn,” he counters, “that was always my first exposure.” However, it’d be wrong to ignore the historic nature of Homer’s success. The only one of a handful of African-Americans to take home an Olympic medal for fencing. Peter Westbrook, the namesake of Homer’s adolescent training ground, was also one of them. The message to kids who look like them is clear: Hercules is Black.
He’s working with his trainer Andrew Fitzgerald now, eyes set on the 2020 games in Tokyo. An American fencer has never won Gold in Homer’s category. “Now it’s going to get really intense.”