TEANECK, N.J. — Egyptian-born Sherif Farrag of Teaneck says fencing has provided him with more than a pastime.
It's given him an education at Colombia University, where he was recruited for the sport. Fencing has taught him how to tackle life head-on.
And now, the sport is providing Farrag with an opportunity to give back, as he's opened a fencing club in downtown Teaneck.
"Fencing is not only physical but mental as well," said Farrag, 30.
"It's a great anaerobic sport but you also learn to improve concentration, self-control, and how to think strategically."
The formerly 13th-ranked foil fencer in the country didn't always love the sport.
He started when he was a child simply because his father, internationally-ranked Egyptian fencer Abdel Aziz, pushed him into the sport.
"When I was little, I hated it," said Farrag, who moved to Bayonne from Egypt with his family when he was 9.
"My dad taught me a lot.
"After a few years, I started to enjoy it."
By the time he got to college, he loved it.
"It became my sport, my thing," said Farrag, who is working toward a Master's in Middle Eastern Studies and is learning Modern Hebrew. "I took ownership of it."
During undergrad, the athlete helped his team at Columbia finish in 3rd and 4th places at NCAA Champions, and he himself was a Northeast Regional Champion in 2009.
Top universities such as Princeton, Harvard and Notre Dame specifically recruit and offer scholarships to fencers.
Fencing is rather niche, Farrag said. But because of that, he's been able to keep in touch with friends at quarterly tournaments across the U.S. and foster a fencing community.
"There's a certain kind of adrenaline you get," he said.
"There's a sword in your hand."
Now that he's a coach, fencing has taken on a new meaning for Farrag.
"The coach is very much like a mentor," he said.
"I really enjoy those moments in fencing class or when I'm explaining a lesson.I bring it back to real life."
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