It’s fun to do the impossible.
Jesse Oduro is training to qualify to fence at the 2016 Olympics. He has a huge dream and The UP Lab is here to help.
We are partnering with Jesse to pilot our sponsorship program and work out the kinks in the program in hopes of directly helping more individuals achieve their biggest goals.
We interviewed Jesse a year ago and his message was, no matter the discouragement to keep dreaming. The important thing is to make definitive moves to get closer to obtaining your dream. That’s what he has been doing. Let’s catch up with Jesse and learn more about his fencing.
The last time we interviewed you for The UP Lab was over a year ago, can you fill us in on what has happened since then?
Quite a bit has happened. I completed a few projects and graduated from college. I completed an art piece as part of the TEDxUCIrvine talks, put together a benefit concert to raise $5000 for To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), and took an internship at the American Diabetes Association of Orange county as a grant writer for a couple of months.
I moved back home to the San Fernando Valley to sort myself out and figure out what I really want to do. The stress of the job market and not knowing what I wanted to do had taken a toll on me. Breakdowns had become normal and I would often wake up and ask myself, “What am I doing with my life?”
My parents have been encouraging me to go back to school but, in addition to taking out more loans, I wouldn’t know what to pursue. They have been pushing me to pursue money before passion. Although I understand that money runs our world, I don’t want to spend the energy and vigor of my youth chasing money. I want to make good money and enjoy the finer things in life but I want to do something meaningful to me. My family finds this naive and overly idealistic.
Instead of focusing so much on my future success, I’m learning to immerse myself in the process of obtaining success and allow myself to fully experience life. This has helped me a lot to become a well-rounded individual.
For instance, I recently took a part-time job at a Lowes Home Improvement Store. It looks bad that, as a college graduate, I’m working a low paying job, but to me its part of the learning experience. I’m learning how to work with people from all walks of life and adapting to a job I wouldn’t have been comfortable with earlier in my life.
I feel a lot of pressure from my parents to become successful, for which their measuring stick is the amount of money I make. It’s not entirely wrong that these expectations have been placed on me. Where I come from, poverty is real and you’re a nobody if you can’t provide for your family. It’s even worse if your parents have sacrificed to get you to America and you don’t seek out a way to make a lot of money.
These expectations weigh heavily on me because although I want to make my family proud, I don’t want to sacrifice my personal agenda of doing something extraordinary with my life. I want to have the best of both worlds but I will place my passion first.
What’s your history with fencing? It seems kind of random.
It’s actually is a random story. I had never heard of fencing prior to moving to the United States. I saw it once when I watched the Olympic Games on TV but didn’t think much of it. I was a soccer player but, due to injuries and being out of shape, I wasn’t getting playing time with my high school soccer team.
I remember being frustrated on game day. My coach had cut me from the roster and, as I was walking to my locker, I saw a couple of students playing with swords. I was quite intrigued and stuck around to watch. Before I knew it, Mr. Schiller, the fencing coach, handed me a weapon to try it out. I practiced for about a month and entered my first competition where I took 2nd place in men’s novice foil and placed in the top 8 in both sabre and epee.
From there on, I became an integral part of the team and competed in the So. Cal Scholastic Fencing League. My teammates, Joseph and Bryan, and I qualified for the 2008 United States Fencing Association’s summer national tournament in San Jose, Calif.
After high school, I competed for UC Irvine against schools like UCSD (a division 1 ranked team), UCLA, Arizona State, UCSB and CalTech.
Why have you decided to fence now, again, after letting go of it during college?
Fencing is a passion. I’ve really enjoyed the idea of sword fighting since my childhood. I remember playing with my friends as a kid in Ghana and mimicking moves we saw from the The Three Musketeers and Zorro movies.
It’s unfortunate that due to focus on internships and work that I let go of fencing during my senior year of college. I never strayed too far away, though. I made time to regularly go to fencing practices and spectated at tournaments to stay in the community.
I have a huge opportunity to make history as Ghana’s first Olympic representative and, more importantly, I have the opportunity to introduce a slightly new sport to Ghana.
To some, competing in the Olympics is an impossible dream. It would be fun to do the impossible.
What do you foresee as being the biggest hardships as you work toward the 2016 Olympics?
The biggest issue so far has been getting access to higher quality training equipment and facilities. Fencing is an expensive sport and to compete at the Olympic level requires a lot of individual practice with a great coach. Money is tight and not having a large sponsor is my biggest roadblock at the moment. Other than funding, I don’t foresee many obstacles. With funding, I”ll be able to upgrade my equipment and afford more technical training. My coaches have confidence in me and I’m confident in my capabilities. My coaches’ confidence in me inspires me to do my best and I hope to make them proud by qualifying for the dream.
What does your training schedule look like?
I’m focused on developing a strong foundation with cardio work and weight room sessions. I plan to re-start full time blade work and technique training in September at Avant Garde Fencing Studios and Salle D’asaro. I’m hoping to raise enough money to afford more one-on-one sessions with my coaches.
I’m also on a nutrition program and plan out my meals a week in advance.
Which tournaments do you plan on participating in?
My coaches will help me decide which tournaments to attend based on my qualification route to the Olympics. At the time of this interview, I plan on participating in the Korfanty Cup in Chicago, the World Cup in Kazan, the African Championships, the Cole Cup in London and the North American Cup.
What do you do when you aren’t fencing?
I love all things music. When I’m not fencing, I’m out collecting records or at a concert to see some of my favorite bands and discovering new artists with friends. Music truly inspires my every step. I’ll be putting up a playlist from time to time on my website.
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