Greatness is more than an Olympic silver medal in saber, greatness is becoming a role model

“The real icons are people like Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Peter Westbrook. What would I choose between an Olympic medal and the chance to inspire others? I would always choose the second scenario. When I was younger, I probably would have said the opposite, but fencing has changed me. It allowed me to travel all over the world, something that was unimaginable for a kid from The Bronx, it made me discover zones of my personality that would have remained unexplored, it provided me with a much richer and broader overall vision: most of all, it made me think about what I should do in order to be a better person and have a positive impact on the others’ lives.”

Daryl Homer’s platform is not just about attacks and hits, footwork and swirling lines, Olympic and international medals. In the hands of this Virgin Islands native who grew up in New York City, saber along the years has transformed into a tool far more powerful than just a sports weapon, becoming a gateway key. Cultural differences, marketing laws, visual aesthetics and social engagement are just some of the doors this fencer’s sharp key has managed to open, or rather, touch with its thrusts. Thrusts that are not worth just sports podiums, but also human podiums. Thrusts that Daryl learned to recognize early, at age 11, when he began to listen to and absorb the inspiring words of master Peter Westbrook, historic bronze medalist in LA 1984 and African American icon (first black fencer to achieve this result).

“One day I saw an advertisement dedicated to the potential 2004 New York Olympics: one of the main characters was a black fencer, Peter Westbrook, standing in a guard position. His figure immediately fascinated me, so I asked my mother where I could practice that sport. At first she was doubtful, she didn’t think there could be a fencing academy in our neighborhood, but after consulting the Yellow Pages she found out that Peter Westbrook himself had decided to open a club in the neighbourhood. Peter immediately became a mentor to me, and winning a medal in Rio 2016, as the first African American after him, was the crowning achievement of our human relationship-it was an experience that sublimated our connection. Now I’m trying to be a mentor to the many young people in involved in Peter’s Foundation, I try to teach them how to be both olympic athletes and human beings. I share everything with these kids and show them that fencing is not a sport limited to the upper classes of society. That’s why I decided to live in Harlem, to stay close to my community, to try to unite it and to be a daily example. This noble sporting art, rich in history and beauty, must be made accessible to everyone.”

Change, however, needs role models. And role models need effective platforms. Daryl has managed to build his own platform through his palmares, certainly, but also through the careful and refined construction of personal branding. After a bachelor’s degree in Advertising Communication from St. John’s University, the Harlem fencer decided to intersperse his training with learning about contemporary marketing, even trying an internship at a specialized company. Thanks to this sensibility, Daryl penetrated the fashion universe, becoming a testimonial for a variety of brands and companies, building a fruitful parallel career.

“I’ve always appreciated storytelling. I think the common ground between athlete, company, product and community is extremely fertile, and I wanted to explore it consciously. When I was in school, I had a roommate and teammate who was close to the marketing field: his father ran an agency in Madrid. Together we watched the TV series Mad Men, which was very popular at the time, and that program inspired me to pursue this path. I started to inform myself, to think about how I wanted to show myself and be perceived, both from a visual and artistic point of view. One of the big differences between the U.S. sports system and, for example, the European system, is that U.S. Olympic athletes do not receive financial benefits and cannot commit full time to achieving Olympic podiums and medals. This is also why I decided to work for a period of my life. I used to practice mornings and evenings, it was difficult, but I knew I was learning very important things that today allow me to live a good life and collaborate with brands like Toyota, Lululemon, Nike and Polo Ralph Lauren.”

Daryl’s background today is developed in his connection with global big companies, but also in a perpetual curiosity, demonstrated by his desire to capture moments on the road with his Fujifilm x100v, his love of art and learning the French language. Fragments that Daryl collects and develops along with the constant social commitment reflected as much on the Harlem neighborhood as on the African continent. All branches of a heterogeneous and virtuous commitment that, however, never ceases to be focused on the primary result: the confirmation and eventual improvement of the exceptional Olympic silver won on the platforms of Rio 2016.

“I am curious, I love expanding my mind, exploring myself and my surroundings. I try to extrapolate as much as I can from the professionals I cross paths with. From Anthony Geathers (featured in one of our Behind the Lights), for example, I learned the importance of having your own point of view and being authentic. Figures like Anthony show me the way to achieve my best, to always push myself further. Now my main goal is to perform at my best in the 2024 Paris Olympics, of course, but also much more, like expanding my platforms and narrating my journey in a better way. Then I want to have an impact on people. In recent years I happened to collaborate on an event with the UN, but I also put a lot of emphasis on Africa. I’ve taught fencing in Senegal and Zambia, in general I take advantage of every opportunity to go overseas, especially to African diaspora countries. It’s great to help those children, as well as the New York children. And that’s worth much more than a medal.”

Photo Credits: Anthony Geathers 
Text by: Gianmarco Pacione