Olympic Fencer Race Imboden Loves His DogsPublished July 10, 2012
Courtesy of Piper Hoffman
Tough guys can be tender too. Take Olympic fencer Race Imboden: he has a very soft spot in his heart for animals, and rescued dogs in particular.
Race started fencing as a child, when a stranger in a park saw him pretending he was in a sword fight and suggested to his parents that he try fencing. A fencing club turned him down when he was eight years old, but he went back the next year and, at nine years old, wouldn’t take no for an answer.
But even before he fell in love with fencing he fell in love with dogs. Born into a family that included companion animals, he grew up with them and feels that they influenced his personality. As he grew from being of a size with his dogs to towering over his peers, he learned to be gentle from the little dogs, Pikachu and the late Echo. As a youth Race also had an iguana: “that guy was awesome,” he smiles. He admired the spirit of the constantly escaping iguana, whom the family would regularly find hanging out around the house.
“Everybody should have some kind of pet when they’re growing up,” Race says. “It's a great part of your childhood to grow up with a pet in your household. I guess like how people say they have invisible friends growing up. I had a dog, so I had a friend right there. It's just a great way to grow up, to have a little guy by your side.”
Race attributes some of his athletic success to lessons learned from his pets. Accepting that sometimes they chew up his favorite shoes or that he has to groom them helps him deal with the “little things that are going to rub you the wrong way” that are inevitable in life and sports. “You’re going to come home aching and tired and there are going to be days you don’t want to go in, but you’ve got to love the sport for what it is the same way you love an animal for what it is.”
This love and determination has served Race well. Around age 10 he decided he wanted to compete in the Olympics, and here he is, with a spot on the American team and a fresh tattoo of the Olympic rings on his right arm. He loves fencing for its own sake: he doesn’t even know how many competitions or medals he has won – that isn’t the point for him.
Mental discipline has also been key to his success in fencing in particular, which he considers to be like “physical chess.” “You can’t just go work out,” he says of succeeding in his chosen sport. “You’ve got to be able to learn tactics. You’ve got to be able to think on the strip. There are very few sports where I can go in every day and keep learning something new and fencing allows me to just kind of progressively learn every day I go in.”
Race lives with his parents, their dog Pikachu, a fish, and a bird in Brooklyn, where he has spent the past year training for the 2012 games. He will head to Notre Dame in the fall. After college he is considering getting a large dog for the first time. “They’ve been fun to play with,” he says of other people’s large dogs. “They're my size, they can kind of rough me up as well, so that’s always kind of fun. They're a big presence in the room, I kind of like that.” But he may still have small dogs in his future: recently he saw a miniature Huskie; describing the dog, he whistles and says “those things are cute, man. They’re awesome.”