By In Stuff

Rio Diary Day 2: Epee Man

Rio Diary Day 2: Jason Pryor

You may have heard the story of fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. She will become the first American athlete ever to compete at the Olympics wearing a hijab, a headscarf commonly worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty. She was the focus of the fencing pre-Olympics press conference, of course, and she spoke wonderfully about making the United States Olympics Team just a little bit more diverse. She spoke from the heart about wanting to change American perceptions about what being Muslim means.

It was beautiful and so important in our particular moment of time. We will revisit her during these Games.

But, I have to admit, for most of it I was on the other side of the room cracking up and talking martial arts movies and big dreams with my new best friend, America’s only Olympic epee fencer, Jason Pryor.

The Summer Olympics are funny; they are so big, so vast, that as an observer you find yourself just getting tossed and turned in its wake. NBC, of course, with all the magic that 2,000 people can muster, takes you effortlessly from venue to venue, event to event, so that you’re always in the right spot, always at the peak moment, always at the big finish. Here, though, you just follow your instinct, your sense of smell, your curiosity and just hope for the best.

And so here’s what happened on Day 2: I came to talk with Ibtihaj Muhammad like all the other reporters, only in the introductions I heard the fencing PR person say, “And from South Euclid, Ohio, this is Jason Pryor.”

And my mind wandered to the obvious place, “Wait a minute, I’M from South Euclid, Ohio.*”

*Hail to South Euclid, home of former Cy Young winner Steve Stone, David S. Ward the director of “Major League” and probably some other famous people.

So there you go. I left the pack and went to go talk to Pryor. And — as is usually true when you’re at the Olympics just following whatever looney instincts happen to be leading — it was fantastic. Pryor is hilarious and fun and full of life. And his story is great.

So it turns out that Pryor played a little soccer in my old hometown, and he kind of hated it, and at 11 he told his parents that he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t really want to do any sport, not baseball, not football, none of them.

“Well,” they told him, “you have to play SOME sport.” It seems, as Pryor retells the story, he was a chubby kid who would prefer just doing a whole lot of nothing.

“How about fencing?” he said. A friend had told him about fencing. It sounded kind of cool, you know, with the swords and stuff. Plus, he figured it would take his parents a long time to find a fencing club (or whatever) and then they might forget about it and …

“FINE!” they said, and within 10 minutes they found the Alcazar Fencing Club there in the boiler room of Shaker Heights High School, about 20 minutes from their house.

“YOU’RE GOING!” they told him.

He liked it at first, you know, with the swords and stabbing people and all of that. Then it started to become work. Fencing looks easy in “The Princess Bride,” but you probably already knew that’s not fencing. Epee is it’s a lot of work, it’s very physical, so he was beginning to lose interest. And then the coach put him in his first competition.

“It was the strangest feeling,” he says. “I was scared, and I hated it, and then I loved it. It was the craziest mix of feelings. And, of course, I was terrible, and I lost mostly, but something comes over me when I lose. I am like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to climb up. I’ve got to win.’ I become crazed.”

His story follows a crazy path from there — he did get better, he fenced at The Ohio State University (he dutifully includes “The”), and they even won a national title. Then he was about to retire the epee and try to make it as a writer (scriptwriter, comic book writer, novelist, any kind of writer — he loves to write). Then, as a gift, he parents bought him a plane ticket to compete in his first Grand Prix. And, one thing leading to another, someone saw promise in him and convinced him to give his life to epee and try to become one of the best in the world. That was seven years ago. He became a professional (sort of) athlete.

“People would see me and say, ‘Oh, you’re an athlete?’” he says happily. “And I say, ‘Yes! I’m an athlete! Except I have NO money and NO fame and NO ONE cares.”

The guy’s funny, and smart, and impossible not to like. He was shocked to make the Olympics team, and he’s shocked to be here, and nobody really expects him to win a medal. But, as he says, nobody knows in his sport. Surprises happen. It all depends on the day. “The best fencer,” he says, “does not always win.”

Anyway, he’s not here to win a medal. He’s here to surpass himself. And, hey, that could lead to a medal, but the only way he will be satisfied is if he feels like he has reached the peak of his personal mountain. “All I want is to have the greatest fencing day of my life,” he says. “That’s all. People are here for all different reasons. That’s mine. If I have my greatest fencing day, win or lose, I’ll have what I came for.”

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80 Responses to Rio Diary Day 2: Epee Man

  1. Owen says:

    Since you were meeting the US fencing team, did you have an exchange with Katharine Holmes? I coached her little sister in middle school volleyball, and occasionally worked with Katharine in the school’s fitness center (she was a full-time fencer by high school), and I’m very happy that she is an Olympian – just a fantastic person.

  2. Dan says:

    “one thing leading to another, someone saw promise in him and convinced him to give his life to epee and try to become one of the best in the world”

    You yada-yada’d over the best part!
    No, wait, you mentioned he’s from South Euclid.

    Nice story.

  3. B. Siegel says:

    Your observations on the Olympics, so far , are really terrific. In a different way, better then T.V. More human.

  4. Dave says:

    Serious question: why does someone have to cover themselves with a hijab when they’re already wearing that big wire fencing helmet?

    • John R says:

      Fencers usually take their masks off between bouts. They’re no fun to wear.

    • Michael Sherwin says:

      better question, who in the f cares if someone where’s a hijab. Is it some sort of “historic moment” we have 5,000 times a day?

      • invitro says:

        Right. Joe feels like he’s a morally superior person by saying how great it is that some athlete is wearing a hijab. It’s exactly the same as when he and most other sportswriters said Michael Sam was a hero for being gay.

  5. Zekebob says:

    I remember when I first realized fencing makes all of the swordplay I’d always imagined in books and seen depicted in movies out to be utter rubbish.

    I watched an exhibit of a national team (not known for being an international powerhouse) in high school and it quickly became apparent that the blades and strikes are so freaking quick you really can’t even follow them with the untrained,naked eye. Two guys would take a couple of stutter steps and herky jerky arm motions and then someone’s light would signal a touch while I stood there going, “What just happened?” I’d seen it on TV before but it really doesn’t do justice to how oddly mesmerizing it is in person.

    Without all the padding and with fully edged epees or tipped foils someone would get injured very, very quickly.

    • Dave says:

      A guy I worked with fenced at Baruch College and accidentally impaled an opponent during a meet when his button came off. It somehow pleased me to know a man who’d “run someone through.”

  6. invitro says:

    I’ll bet that The Ohio State University rescinds the degree of any alumnus who forgets the The.

  7. Knuckles says:

    Ugh this is what sucks. Probably the three best baseball writers (who aren’t as pretentious as the majority of BP writers)-

    Rob Neyer- unempolyed tweeting Democrat party propaganda all day
    Bill James- Not writing books
    Joe Posanski- Writing about the freaking Olympics which nobody gives a shit about.

    Cmon guys, branching out doesn’t always mean getting better!

    • invitro says:

      I enjoy Bill James’ daily responses to his readers’ questions almost as much as I do his analytical work:

      Rob Neyer is one of my all-time favorite sportswriters. It’s a shame he’s having a hard time. It’s always seemed to me that he has trouble fitting in the sports writing establishment.

      • Knuckles says:

        Yeah Rob has bounced around like mad. Working for Bill which was great, great work at ESPN before they went straight down the tubes. Then SB nation briefly and Fox briefly. No idea why he didn’t stick at the last two. Made it seem to be his decision.

        • invitro says:

          I read all of Rob’s columns way back when, I’m thinking around 2000, maybe even 1998. I’m remembering that he wrote for Yahoo before ESPN but I’m probably wrong. Yahoo had a pretty good staff of sportswriters for awhile, Passan and Wetzel. Then Wetzel drove me crazy with his bizarre campaign against the BCS and I switched to Joe.

    • Frank says:

      For many of us who are Joe’s faithful readers, we pretty much don’t care what he writes about. Joe is a fabulous story teller who could make drying paint or growing grass interesting.

      If you haven’t read “Katie the Prefect,” do it, and you’ll see what I mean.

      • Knuckles says:

        Joe is a wonderful guy but our interests start and end with baseball, so I guess Im selfish.

        Poor guy’s Joe Paterno book could not have dropped at a worse time.
        I do not get why anybody at all thinks Bruce Springsteen is amazing. 2-3 songs tops, but an entire obsession, don’t get it.
        Brady apologist- uh no thanks.

        But Joe on writing about baseball is like Jordan on the court.

        • invitro says:

          I don’t care so much for the maudlin stories that Joe trucks in, but he’s such a good writer that it’s all good. I think Joe is a bit of a hero for what he wrote when the Penn State story broke. I was somewhat obsessed with Springsteen when I was in my early 20’s, well not obsessed, I just loved his 1970’s albums and went to two of his concerts. But everything he’s done since Tunnel of Love is a load of crap, and he’s got one of the worst political mindsets of any music superstar ever (Thom Yorke is worse), so I can’t listen to anything except Born To Run and Darkness any more. It’s time to get on eBay and try to sell all those CDs and records.

      • Pat says:

        “we pretty much don’t care what he writes about”

        90% true. Wait ’til his next Baseball 100 entry lands and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

        And Knuckles, you evidently have lost your capacity for joy, I’m guessing in a game of poker with the devil? Go deeper than 2-3 songs, to “Brothers Under the Bridge” if nothing else.

    • MCD says:

      While I don’t love the Olympics like I do baseball, I do enjoy them a lot. Once every four years, and I am more than happy to consume whatever Joe wants to put out about them for a couple of weeks.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Yes, no one gives a shit about the Olympics. I think you mean YOU don’t give a shit about the Olympics and that apparently should be the defining criteria as to what Joe writes about.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Nobody cares about the Olympics? Or do you mean YOU don’t care about the Olympics. There’s just a slight difference in the two.

      The Olympics, btw, are awesome. Not every sport, of course. But the level of competition is insane. It sure beats a Monday night, early August run of the mill baseball game.

  8. invitro says:

    I don’t know if Joe’s the man for the job, but I want to read a good story on the Russian paralympic doping. I’d actually like to read an entire book on Soviet/communist sports; their doping and other forms of cheating (like China’s lying about ages). The closest I’ve come is a book about Fischer/Spassky, but that’s not really sports, and I don’t recall that the Soviets did much if any cheating in chess.

  9. Binyamin says:

    Why are American liberals so enchanted by authentic representatives of a homophobic, misogynistic religion?

    • invitro says:

      Libs love any religion that’s not Christianity or Judaism?

      • invitro says:

        On second thought, I don’t think it’s that they love other religions. It’s that they hate Christians (and these days, Jews) so much that representatives of any other religion are exotic heroes in comparison.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          It’s amazing how concerned with liberal values that conservatives become as long as it’s not about Christianity. (Oh, and nowadays, conservatives will include Judaism in their pantheon of approved religions. Thanks for finally including us. Apparently, we have now become ok with right-wingers-at least as long as Israel exists to kill Muslims.)

          • invitro says:

            I can’t remember any time when conservatives did not include Jews. Indeed, Jews are known for being very conservative, more so than Christians. Would you care to enlighten us on the reasons for your paranoiac opinions?
            In fact I don’t remember conservatives ever excluding members of any religion. To a typical conservative, all religions (and non-religions) are approved. The only groups that conservatives have typically excluded en masse are criminals and (non-criminal) sexual perverts.

    • Matt says:

      @Binyamon, I have to assume you’re unaware of the irony that “homophobic and misogynistic” could be used to accurately describe a fairly wide swathe of conservative Christians.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Oh, but Matt, when Christians practice it, it’s not “homophobic and misogynistic”, it’s just family values. You need to get with the program.

        • invitro says:

          Marc, you can’t have family values without the family, you can’t have family without monogamy, and it’s been firmly established that monogamy is anathema to homosexuals. You probably know all this, but unfortunately your head is too far up your ass to be able to distinguish reality from proggy fantasies.

          • Karyn says:

            Straight folks aren’t exactly banner carriers for monogamy themselves.

          • invitro says:

            Heterosexuals may not be banner carriers for monogamy compared to perfection, but they certainly are compared to homosexuals. (According to the scientific data I’ve seen.)

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Invitro, do you actually know anything or are you just the asshole you appear to be. I know many gay people who are monogamous, certainly more monogamous than many straight people, including some famous purveyors of family values. So, don’t tell me that it’s been “firmly established” that monogamy is “anathema” to day people. Established by whom? You didn’t even address my comment, which didn’t even have anything to do with gay/straight, but with the homophobia and misogyny of many conservative Christians relative to Muslims. And what the hell is a “proggy fantasy?”

          • invitro says:

            “Established by whom?” Scientists. “And what the hell is a “proggy fantasy?”” That homosexuals are as monogamous as normal people.

          • invitro says:

            “You didn’t even address my comment” Yes, I did.

          • Karyn says:

            Got news for ya, bub. Gay folks are normal people.

          • invitro says:

            “Gay folks are normal people.” More proggy fantasy.

          • Karyn says:

            You’re the one who keeps fantasizing about all the sex gay people are having.

          • invitro says:

            Shrug, you got me there.

      • invitro says:

        It’s true that conservative Christians, like conservative Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and atheists, have tended to not be fans of the homosexual lifestyle. But it’s juvenile to think that either conservatives or Christians are any more misogynistic than liberals, progs, Buddhists, atheists, or any other group. (Obviously, all of these groups are about a thousand times less misogynistic than Muslims.)

    • Marc Schneider says:

      You mean like orthodox Judaism? Yes, I am Jewish.

  10. Unvenfurth says:

    Why do we have to celebrate someone demeaning herself by submitting to a barbaric ritual?

  11. KCJoe says:

    OK, just stop. There is plenty of room on Fox News and MSNBC for this kind of “I’m right and you’re wrong” political “comments” and name calling. Please stay on topic before Joe has to shut down the comments section again. Frankly, I enjoy Joe’s writing but it is clearly enhanced by the intelligent, thoughtful commenters (BRs) that write here.

    • invitro says:

      How about stop trying to bully people? If you don’t like something that you read, grow up and learn to deal with it like the rest of us do. If Joe wants to police the comments, he has the ability to do that, so don’t think you’re serving some valuable purpose by ordering people to shut up.

      • KCJoe says:

        That’s an interesting response. I thought that I was dealing with it by requesting that we stay on topic. I’m not sure how anything in my comment can be read as bullying since I don’t have the ability to shut down the comments section. Of course, sometimes bullying is in the eye of the beholder.

        • invitro says:

          You were bullying because you implied that if people didn’t do what you want, Joe would shut down the comments section.

          • KCJoe says:

            I’ll stand by my statements. I can’t bully you if I don’t have any power over you. I believe that if this comments section devolves into political and religious name calling, that it could be turned off. I believe that it has before. I hope this doesn’t happen.

  12. Dan says:

    I don’t particularly care one way or the other about political discussion – sure, spout your beliefs, go nuts; and when the topic is hijab, it’s only to be expected – but I have no love for pointed trolling and tarring whole groups with the same brush. I think y’all are better than that.

    Pax vobiscum.

  13. Unvenfurth says:

    Joe wrote about a us athlete wearing a hijab so, you can’t say it’s off topic. For the record, I am anti fundamental in all forms of religion. I feel that if you worship, or don’t. I don’t care just don’t involve me in your disputes about what I do

    • KCJoe says:

      Fair enough. Joe clearly states an opinion about a US athlete exercising freedom of religion in her chosen faith while competing in her chosen sport. I take exception to the ensuing religious name calling and over generalization of large groups of people as not really contributing to the intelligent dialog that is more common on this blog’s comment section.
      Wasn’t Tim Tebow celebrated for showing his faith? Athletes often thank God, make the sign of the cross and kneel down to pray. Good for them. But then why is it so controversial for a Muslim to compete in her traditional, religious clothing?

      • invitro says:

        Tebow was mocked about a hundred times more often than celebrated, at least by sportswriters. I can’t believe anyone could be so dense as to not clearly understand that.
        There is no controversy about an athlete wearing a hijab to compete. Unless there are sportswriters demanding that hajibs be banned, and I would be shocked if there were. The controversy, for this webpage at least, is in Joe’s implication that it’s better that an athlete be a hajib wearer than a non-hajib wearer. It’s exactly the same as when Michael Sam was lauded as a hero by Joe and legions of other sportswriters, and it’s all bigoted BS.

        • KCJoe says:

          That’s the funny thing about opinions. Tim Tebow was celebrated. He was also mocked. I can’t tell you how many sportswriters were on either side. You may have counted them up.

          In the US, we have both freedom of religion and freedom of speech. As long as your freedoms don’t trod over mine or mine over yours, we are all good.

          • invitro says:

            So you’re all good with other people’s freedom of speech, now? You sure weren’t when you started this thread. If you’ve changed, then Mission Accomplished.

          • Karyn says:

            Good heavens. No one’s trying to limit your freedom of speech, invitro.

          • invitro says:

            I’m not at all concerned about my own “freedom of speech,” but rather that of persons who may be relatively new here & who might have gotten shy about posting political viewpoints. I made a mountain out of a molehill, but it’s fun, and perhaps even important, to do that from time to time.
            N.B. I also remember that Joe disabled this comment section once, and have been trying to recall when and why it was. I roughly think it was during Paternogate, when lots of posters were equating Joe (Pos.) with Sandusky, which certainly is by far the most vile and insane behavior I’ve seen on Joe’s blog. My memory may be wrong, though.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          How the hell is Joe saying that it’s “better to be a hajib wearer than a non-hajib wearer?” Where are you even getting that from other than you obsession with liberal conspiracies to undermine the republic?

          • invitro says:

            He said it’s “wonderful”, “beautiful”, and “so important” that her hajib-wearing is making the USA Olympic team “just a little bit more diverse”. So if she wasn’t on the team, or even if she was but didn’t wear a hajib, the team would be less diverse, and thus worse; less wonderful, uglier. This really isn’t that hard.

  14. shagster says:

    I’m going to jump the order here.

    Joe. The piece on Rodriguez? Brilliant. One for your top shelf. Did you have his career obit written and stored in a cabinet somewhere, or just tossed it out as a deadline afterthought between covering Olympic events? I suspect the latter, which is yet a another reason for it to be special. Though it doesn’t need another reason. Like a tie breaker set return shot from your favorite Federer, it stands alone, unique, and vivid. Thank you.

    Liked the article on Phelps as well. It’s as solid as one of your Oscar predictions.

  15. KCJoe says:

    Yes, invitriol, you have seen past all my words to my real goal of stamping out the 1st amendment. It had nothing to do with all that stuff that I wrote about name calling and the de-evolution of intelligent discussion. But thankfully by your powers of speech, I have seen the light. I am a changed man. But also your last response is the first that I’ve seen that didn’t call someone dense, juvenile, a bully or “head up my ass”, so let’s call it a draw.

  16. Kuz says:

    “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” –Mark Twain

    I believe only one man has ever been killed while participating in a major league game. Let’s talk baseball.

    • Richard says:

      Baseball can wait until after the Olympics. This is the only time Americans as a whole care at all about sports like gymnastics and swimming and track and fencing; let’s give those athletes their few-weeks-every-four-years time in the spotlight, OK?

      Speaking of which, any thoughts on Kohei Uchimura, who not only won his second gold medal in men’s gymnastics, but is thought by many to be the GREATEST GYMNAST OF ALL TIME EVER? (Had to put in in caps, since the US sports media seems to think gymnastics is solely the domain of barely-legal bespangled princesses…..)

      • invitro says:

        I don’t see a reason why we can’t talk about both baseball AND the Olympics. There aren’t any other sports going on, as tennis players and golfers (I think) are at the Olympics.
        No thoughts on the male gymnast. I guess I agree with the US sports media that female gymnastics is vastly superior.

  17. Marc Schneider says:

    So, apparently, Invitro goal in life is simply to provoke “liberals” into appreciating the joys of free discussion involving name calling and denigration. But it’s all in good fun. Because, after all, the Constitution specifically protects calling people names and it’s something that all good citizens should engage in for the health of the republic.

    • invitro says:

      No, just the joys of free discussion, period. And true liberals don’t need to be awoken to this, as free discussion is a core tenet of liberalism, classical liberalism, anyway. But proggies most certainly do, as do many conservatives.
      I don’t think I went as far as to say that free discussion promotes the health of a country, but sure, I can probably buy that. It certainly worked for us 240 years ago.

      • Karyn says:

        The First Amendment doesn’t apply to Joe’s blog.

        You knew that, of course.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        I guess proggy means progressive. I don’t consider myself a progressive as I am not liberal on all matters. The stuff about free discussion is just bullshit; you don’t have free discussion by calling people names. I don’t think any of the “true liberals” 240 years ago believed that name calling promotes free discussion. In fact, it more likely shuts down discussion as the dialogue degenerates into name calling. Free discussion implies some respect for the other side and some assumption of good faith. You apparently don’t believe in that.

        • invitro says:

          I’m not obsessed with name calling as you are. I’ve learned that assumption of good faith is foolish. Liberalism has nothing in common with progginess. Sorry I’m being short, there’s a new post up.

  18. invitro says:

    Here is some stuff from the wikipedia article on Islam in Germany. I’m just copying, I don’t know if there’s any reason to think that this info is false or invalid, or not applicable to non-Germans. I do think that people who believe that Muslims are no more religiously conservative than Christians probably need to rethink their assumptions. I hope I don’t need to state why these statements are on topic to this post.
    “According to a 2012 poll, 72% of the Turks in Germany believe that Islam is the only true religion and 46% wish that one day more Muslims live in Germany than Christians.”
    “According to 2013 study by Social Science Research Center Berlin, two thirds of the Muslims interviewed say that religious rules are more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live, almost 60 percent of the Muslim respondents reject homosexuals as friends; 45 percent think that Jews cannot be trusted; and an equally large group believes that the West is out to destroy Islam (Christian respondents’ answers for comparison: As many as 9 percent are openly anti-Semitic; 13 percent do not want to have homosexuals as friends; and 23 percent think that Muslims aim to destroy Western culture).”

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