Approximately 69 miles southwest of Paris, where the lush territory of Orléans, France sits in the northern bend of the longest river in country, the Loire, champion fencer Kamali Thompson is hard at work training to qualify for the 2020 Olympics representing the United States. Against the backdrop of the Orleans historic buildings and some of France’s best vineyards, Thompson takes us on a tour of 24 rigorous hours in her international training week. The fourth year medical student is in the “City of Joan Arc” for training to help her compete for a spot on the national fencing team.
Each fencer at the competition is competing to qualify for their national team (top four fencers) or this year, the Olympic team. At the competition, a fencer’s result is associated with a numerical value. Only the top 64 and above receive points; therefore, if an athlete loses on Day 1 of the competition, they receive no points. Every fencer’s goal is to make it to Day 2 (the top 64) and win each bout on that day, and win the entire competition or finish as high as possible. For the USA team, every numerical value the athlete receives from each competition will be added up.
Thompson is determined to be among the 64 fencers that make the cut during the competition at Palais des Sports, an indoor sports complex in Orléans.
8:00 a.m. I usually wake up between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning. It is a brisk fall day here in Orléans, France, and a little overcast. The first thing I do is about 20 minutes of stretches to get my body ready for a day of training and competing. The television is usually on so I can catch the headlines of the day. I put athletic tape on my quads to protect me from injury. I check mails and send emails.
8:45 a.m. After I respond to some email messages, I go down for breakfast. Orléans is beautiful and its Parisian architectures, ferris wheels, and merry-go-rounds provide great scenery for breakfast with the other athletes. It is a nice start to the day. 9:15 a.m. We catch the bus to the train that takes us to the training location. I am treated to more gorgeous scenery on the ride there. I love it here. 9:30 a.m. We begin training each morning with 15 minutes of warm up that includes running, dynamic stretches, and footwork. The footwork involves practicing advancing, retreating, and lunging before you start lunging. Trainers take us through footwork to warm up the body before we begin fencing.
9:45 a.m. Every international camp is different. For example, there are 15 countries represented here in Orleans. This morning, I fenced four bouts. My opponents were women from Japan, Hungary, Germany, and Russia. As usual, it’s was a pretty intense two hours. It’s a real work out! I like fencing with women from Europe because they tend to be very strong opponents. I think spending time with them is really beneficial. In fact, I wanted to train with them a little longer, so I was in Rome fencing with European women the previous week.
Noon. Fencing is fierce but I want to make sure I don’t overdo practice and get injured before the competition. After two hours of fencing, we see our trainer to get treatment, which flushes the lactic acidic out of our bodies. The best way to describe flushing lactic acidic is receiving sports massages on specific parts of the body that may have been especially affected during the bout so that we do not get stiff. I am fascinated by what playing sports do to athletes’ bodies. Using my medical school training, I just completed one of the first studies on lead fencers and what the sport does to their bodies. What is really important to know about fencing is that it requires the athlete to use primarily use one side of their body for movement during the bout. This causes muscle imbalances and that is you can be more prone to injuries that can range from the more common ones such as muscle strain or less common and more serious injuries like ACL tears. It is all part of the sport.
12:30 p.m. Lunch time! Lunch usually consists of 1/3 veggies, 1/3 starch, and 1/3 meat, like steak. My nutritionist told me to double up on the protein, especially after training and competing, so I have an extra helping of protein. I always listen to my coach, nutritionist, trainer, and my body. 1:00 p.m. I have a two-hour break from practice. I am in my last year of medical school and spend the time working on research papers. I believe in making every minute count.
3:30 p.m. I know that rest and recovery is important to the mind and body. In addition to my coach, I always listen to my body and I will encourage everyone to do this with routine. I take 30 minutes to lie down and just rest. 4:00 p.m. Back to practice. I stay focused. It’s all good! 7:00 p.m. Back at the hotel, I grab another shower and prepare for the team dinner. I always look forward to having dinner with the other athletes.
7:30 p.m. At dinner, the other athletes and I talk about the day. We are dining together more as a team these days, which is really great. I really like this part of the day.
8:30 p.m. We watch films of fencing bouts and analyze the top fencers. This is part of our training. Fencing is as much mental as it is physical. Fencers study their opponents to capitalize on weaknesses they see in them. I study my opponent and I know I am being studied. I know my opponent is taking her best shot and I have to do the same. 9:00 p.m. I am back in my hotel room. It feels good to have some down time. I check emails, make some calls, and watch Netflix. 11:00 p.m. I am in bed and falling asleep.
8:00 a.m. I wake up and start all over again.
About Kamali Thompson
Thompson was recruited by the Temple University fencing team. During her four years as a Temple Owl, she went on to become a four-time NCAA Championship qualifier, a second team All-American, and the first four-time NIWFA conference champion. Her performance inside the classroom and on the fencing strip earned the title of Student Athlete of the Year at Temple University twice (2011, 2012). She graduated from Temple University with honors, earning a bachelor’s of science in biology and a minor in psychology. Post-graduation, Thompson matriculated into Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and began competing internationally for Team USA.
During the 2015-2016 Olympic qualifying year, she was a three-time national silver medalist. After a strenuous, yet rewarding season she finished 6th on the national point standings and won the 2016 National Championships. Thompson is a member of the 2019 national team, completing research in the sports medicine division in the department of orthopedic surgery at NYU, and studying to become an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon. She is also a 2018-2019 author for Doximity and continues to fiercely train for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.
For more information on Kamali Thompson, visit her website at: https://kamalithompson.com
You can also visit:
Facebook Athlete page: @KamaliThompsonUSA
WATCH VIDEO ON KAMALI: