Before every match, junior epee Safa Ibrahim makes sure she has French vanilla coffee and oatmeal in her system. She also jumps rope to calm herself down for three minutes.
Then, after this strict routine, Ibrahim talks to her teammates to keep her mind off things until she is called to face an opponent.
Sophomore epee Quinn Duwelius said while Ibrahim is a pretty reserved person, her mindset changes on the strip.
“I remember watching her fence and getting her touch and she screamed and just destroyed this girl,” Duwelius said. “Then afterwards, she was just chilling like nothing happened. So that’s kind of the way she goes about life in general. She just kind of sits there and is very low key in the background, but then when she gets put into a situation like fencing, she’ll turn into a completely different person.”
Ibrahim began competing at the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a fencing club in New York City, when she was 13 years old.
Coach Nikki Franke has a long relationship with Westbrook. The two were both teammates on the United States fencing teams in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Ibrahim isn’t the only talent she has recruited from Westbrook’s club.
Kamali Thompson and Epiphany Georges, who both competed at Westbrook’s club, were both fencers at Temple. Thompson fenced at Temple from 2008-12, while Georges fenced from 2010-14.
Ibrahim said Thompson and Georges encouraged her to talk to Franke and join her on North Broad Street.
“That was good because I had a little bit of insight of what Temple’s like and what the team represented,” Ibrahim said.
Prior to living in the Bronx, Ibrahim lived in the north side of Chicago, where her cousin, Zainab Abdullah, introduced her and her brother, Ayyub Ibrahim, into fencing at age 9.
But Ibrahim only fenced for about a week in Chicago. She and her family were forced to move after her father, Mohamed Ibrahim, got a teaching job at Landmark High School in New York City.
Ibrahim and her brother went on about a four-year hiatus from fencing until her mother, Haqikah Abdullah, stumbled upon Westbrook’s club while searching the internet for after-school programs.
At Westbrook’s club, Ibrahim and her brother learned fencing styles from Dwight Smith and Ben Bratton.
Smith was a member of the 2004 U.S. National fencing team and won seven bouts in the 2009 NCAA Championships. Bratton, who is ranked the No. 5 fencer in the United States and the No. 49 fencer in the world, became the first African-American fencer to win a world championship title as a member of the U.S. Men’s Epee team in 2012.
“She comes from a very well-known club in New York,” Franke said. “I was familiar with a lot of people at the club and had seen her at many of the national tournaments. That’s where we do most of our recruiting.”
Ibrahim and Ayyub Ibrahim have both translated the skills shown to them at Westbrook’s club into collegiate fencing careers.
Ayyub Ibrahim fenced four stops down the SEPTA Regional Rail at the University of Pennsylvania from 2012-16. Ayyub Ibrahim finished with a 29-13 record as a freshman. He was also first team All-Ivy League his sophomore year and placed 11th at the 2014 NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional.
As a freshman, Ibrahim was Temple’s top performer, posting a 72-28 record in dual meets and finishing 16th at the NCAA Championships. In her sophomore season, she was the Owls’ top finisher by placing 17th in epee at the NCAA Championships.
“I think she’s gotten more confident,” Franke said. “I think she has definitely gotten more organized and is really starting to develop as a leader on our team and someone who is well respected by her teammates.”
Tom Ignudo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Ignudo5.