The United States Olympic & Paralympic Foundation (USOPF) has named Brooklyn Fencing Olympian Nzingha Prescod among four Team USA athletes who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to service within their communities as winners of the Team USA Service & Hope Award.
As determined by the selection committee, the athletes, and their corresponding nonprofits, whose application materials best embodied the spirit of the award were: Nzingha Prescod & Fencing in the Park; Shea Hammond & CP Soccer US; Darlene Hunter & National Wheelchair Basketball Association; and Kai Lightner & Climbing for Change.
Established in 2021, USOPF said on Friday that the Team USA Service & Hope Award celebrates Olympians, Paralympians and hopefuls who serve in a volunteer role with charitable organizations whose missions focus on youth sport, physical activity, or health and well-being.
Each awardee will receive $25,000, half of which will be directed to the nonprofit they serve.
“We are thrilled to recognize the awe-inspiring achievements of our awardees, who showed us that they truly go above and beyond in service to their communities,” said Christine Walshe, president of the USOPF. “I extend my congratulations to Shea, Darlene, Kai and Nzingha and my appreciation for every Team USA athlete who applied and continue to serve their communities.”
In its inaugural year, USOPF said the award received 134 applications, with nearly 71 percent of applicants being Olympians or Paralympians, while 76 percent were athletes who are currently training and competing.
USOPF said three out of four applicants were summer sport athletes, with the highest number of applications coming from track and field athletes.
Notably, USOPF said athlete applicants spent a collective 9,250 hours, or 385 days, volunteering over the past 18 months.
“Our athlete applicants blew us away with their stories of service, and it was incredibly difficult to select just four winners from such a qualified and inspiring group of applicants,” said Yucca Rieschel, co-chair of the award’s selection committee. “Based on the interest the program has generated, we are hopeful that this award will continue to recognize and publicize the countless ways that Team USA athletes are making a difference in their communities.”
USOPF said Vincentian American, two-time Olympian Prescod, who became the first Black American woman to medal at the World Fencing Championships in 2015, dealt with a hip injury that forced her to retire in 2020.
In the same year, USOPF said she founded Fencing in the Park, which introduces under-resourced communities in New York City to the sport of fencing and its principles of fitness, discipline, focus, strategic thinking and problem-solving.
USOPF said Prescod’s ultimate goal is to develop the next generation of leaders and champions in sport and beyond.
“It’s so satisfying to share the gift of fencing with youth from my home community, who haven’t traditionally had access to the opportunity,” Prescod, the founder and executive director of The Prescod Institute for Sport, Teamwork and Education & Fencing in the Park, told Caribbean Life exclusively on Tuesday. “Our mission is to realize human potential through fencing-based youth development and other academic and educational opportunities.
“Our team inspires the next generation to become high-performing athletes and people.,” added the East Flatbush resident. “It’s my pleasure to be able to offer that, and I’m incredibly proud of the impact we have made so far.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to build,” Prescod continued. “Thank you to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the Foundation for supporting and celebrating our efforts.”
Prescod has been in the vanguard of legislation introduced in the City Council for the establishment of the Mayor’s Office of Sports, Wellness and Recreation.
On April 21, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez held a press conference, alongside Borough President Eric Adams, Office of the Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and a coalition of leaders in the New York City sports community, to discuss the details of Intro 1959, establishing the Office.
The measure was supported by Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Williams, Speaker Corey Johnson, and a collation of different sports groups and institutions.
“This legislation is historic because it’s the first step towards changing the exclusionary nature of our current sports system,” said Prescod, who was selected as an athlete director on the USA Fencing Board of Directors, beginning on Jan. 1, 2021.
USA Fencing said Prescod, 28, whose mother is Vincentian lawyer, Marva Presdod, was elected with 2012 Paralympian Cat Bouwkamp, of Fishers, Ind.
“Every child is deserving of quality sport education, not just those who can afford it,” the Olympian said. “This bill will integrate sport into the lives of young New Yorkers and equip them with the tools to become the best version of themselves in sport and in life. They deserve that opportunity.
“I would like to thank the public officials who have made this office a reality — Councilmember Rodriguez, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Speaker Johnson and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams,” she added. “I would like to thank the community partners that have been instrumental in making the case for city support of equitable sport. I’d like to thank all the organizations that have helped address this issue of sports equity, including Ernst & Young.
“Finally, I would like to thank my village,” Prescod continued. “My mom and sister, and the Peter Westbrook Foundation. This platform would not exist without them, and it’s part of Peter’s legacy! Much love to them and my city.”
She said the Mayor’s Office of Sports, Wellness, and Recreations would be responsible for creating strategies and initiatives to support youth sports activities throughout New York, and create a pipeline for disadvantaged children to be placed in competitive sports programs and competitions.
The Office would also provide access to sports-related opportunities for students and promote the role of sports in education and recreation; make recommendations for the growth of professional, amateur and scholastic sports recreation; and coordinate sports initiatives with other city agencies, including the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
In addition, Prescod said the Mayor’s Office of Sports, Wellness and Recreations would be responsible for creating strategies and initiatives that will help the City become a major sports competitor across the country and the world.
“These strategies and initiatives will create a pipeline for all youth in New York City to be placed in competitive sports programs and competitions,” she said.
“This was years in the making!” Prescod told Caribbean Life. “I’ve been committed to this vision since Columbia (University) days, where I studied through the lens of ‘how sport can be used to mobilize communities’”, Prescod added. “Since then, it’s been advocacy and organizing.”
The first African-American fencer to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships with a bronze in 2015, USA Fencing said Prescod was instrumental in leading the US Women’s Foil Team to three straight medals at Senior World Championships, including the squad’s first-ever gold in 2018.
A graduate of Columbia University, with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in race and ethnicity, Prescod is one of the founding members of USA Fencing’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Resource Team, USA Fencing said.
Prescod, who has five World Championship titles, said among her most notable sport accomplishments was becoming the first Black woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships when she claimed bronze in 2015.
In July 2018, she and her team captured Team USA’s first-ever World Championships gold medal for the USA Foil.
Prescod is an eight-time World Championship medalist, the most decorated Black female in USA fencing history, and has ranked as high as no. 5 in the world.
In January 2013, then Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, now New York City Public Advocate, honored Prescod, who, the previous summer, competed in the women’s foil in fencing at the London Olympic Games.
Prescod, then 20, was a sophomore at the prestigious Columbia University.
Prescod said she discovered fencing as a young girl after her mother read a newspaper article about the prestigious Peter Westbrook Foundation, a New York City-based fencing clinic for youth from underserved communities.
After learning that several participants were competing in the Olympic Games in 2001, the elder Prescod enrolled both of her daughters in the foundation’s Saturday fencing lessons.
That same year, just nine years old, Nzingha Prescod said she held her first foil, quickly igniting her passion for fencing.
Since she was 14, Prescod said she has been competing in international fencing competitions.
She won the U-17 World Championships in 2008 and 2009, as well as the 2011 U-20 World Championship.
Prescod said she was also a member of many gold-medal winning teams in the Cadet World Championships (2007, 2008 and 2009), the Junior World Championships (2011), the Pan-American Games (2011) and the Senior World Championship Teams (2009, 2010 and 2011).
The young fencer has established Fencing in the Park (FITP) in Brooklyn, a community-based, outdoor summer series introducing the less visible sport of fencing to children of color that are unlikely to access it.
Prescod said Olympic, national team, and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes joined together to lead the sessions.
She said FITP has enrolled more than 40 kids from underrepresented neighborhoods, such as East Flatbush, Flatbush, Brownsville, Bed-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.