Kamara James, an Olympic fencer from Queens, N.Y., has died in Modesto, Calif., USA Fencing reported Tuesday. The cause of the 29-year-old’s death, which occurred Sept. 20, according to the Modesto Bee, has not been announced.
Just 10 years ago, at the age of 19, James became one of the youngest fencers to represent the USA at the 2004 Athens Games, where she was the only American women’s épée fencer to qualify, the site notes.
Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, James moved to Queens when she was 10. At first she found it difficult to transition to life in a new country, but she became a scholastic star in middle school, earning a full scholarship first to the Dwight School and then to Princeton as a result of her good grades and almost perfect SAT score.
Supremely talented, James decided to take a year off from Princeton to train for the Olympics. Experience and lack of financial resources made her path difficult, according to USA Fencing, but she overcame all odds, drawing up a business plan and petitioning for more than $50,000 in donations to do what she could to see her dream to the end.
After Athens, James returned to her schooling, completing a degree in religious studies and gaining admission to Harvard to work on a master’s degree in comparative religion.
“Kamara James was one of the brightest, precocious, self-assured young people I ever met. From her time as a very young fencer at the Peter Westbrook Foundation to her years at Princeton as an accomplished Olympian, she remained warm, caring and confident,” USA Fencing President Donald K. Anthony Jr. said. “Kamara’s untimely passing leaves our fencing community very saddened, and her spirit, charm and wit will be dearly missed.”