Numéro talks with Olympic bronze medalist Race Imboden
Race Imboden is a two-time team Foil Fencing bronze medalist. He made his international competition debut at the age of 14 when he won a Bronze medal at the 2010 World Fencing Championships. Off the mat Race spends his time directing and writing. His modern-day Renaissance Man outlook on life makes you even more willing to join him as he makes the change he wants to see in the world.
Race, you’re a two-time team Olympic bronze medalist in foil fencing. You made your debut in this sport at the age of 14 when you won bronze at the cadet 2010 World Fencing Championship. But before getting into foil fencing, you were into inline skating and BMX. What was behind your decision to get into foil fencing?
It was really a series of chance. I was discovered in a park. I was playing with a toy lightsaber and somebody told my parents I should try fencing. And then my father moved for work and we moved to New York. When you are a kid, you do a lot of different sports. And it just so happened that the apartment we were staying in temporarily was right across the street from a fencing club. So from all the things I could pick up right away as a kid, I went back into a fencing club and I just fell in love with it. I think it slowly took over my life and pushed all the other hobbies out of the way. And before I knew it, I was a fencer.
Did you ever look back, regretting that you didn’t do other sports?
Fencing was such a beautiful experience for me. It was really an ability for me to test myself in a lot of different ways; self-reflection, self-growth, discipline, creativity. There was a lot of areas that fencing taught me about and being able to do something so deeply. Sometimes it felt like we were floating on air. So to live the life like that, where your craft and your passion is really the main thing in your life, is something that not a lot of people get to live. I’m very happy for it and I don’t regret it.
You’ve been part of the USA team at the Olympics three times, in London, Rio de Janeiro and in Tokyo. Can you describe the feeling of competing at the biggest competition in the world?
I think that it changes every time you go to new Olympics, you’re becoming an adult. At my first Olympic games I was 19, so I was a kid and going there felt like a dream. My mother’s English so it was on her home turf. It felt like a full circle. And little did I know I was really just at the beginning of my career and then I would have two more Olympic games to go to. It feels unbelievable to achieve something that you set your mind to. To be able to say and know the power of saying “I wanna do something” and then find yourself there is pretty incredible. I think the most important thing is that you get to live out a dream and to really be faced with the dream that you are thinking about all the time as a kid. It’s such a special feeling. It’s a massive achievement.
It always feels weird when you get there because it’s what you do and as an athlete you have to expect it. You have to live it, you have to be ready to be there. The first games was very much overwhelming and so new and everything was huge and special. And the second and third were more business and the third obviously took on a life of its own with Covid. So, they’re all very different.
And how did you feel when you won the bronze medal at the Olympics?
Very special. We won in team, so I shared it with guys that I grew up with – Alex Massialas, Gerek Meinhardt and Miles Chamley-Watson. And the second one withNick Itkin. They’re guys that I looked up to, guys that I competed against, guys that were pushing me my whole life and then became people that I saw more than my own family. I was seeing them every weekend and living with these guys and growing up with them. And I think this last medal in particular, it was cool cause we got to experience it as adults. We were really much older then when we first started and when we all got to know each other and we’ve all changed so much. And to have that kind of moment where we all looked at each other and we told each other we loved each other and had that moment at the award ceremony after such an incredibly intense season and such a terrible time with Covid and being separated from everybody, was very special. I’ll remember that forever.
When you are off the mat, you’ve also been modelling, which you started at 19. What is the most special thing about modelling for you?
I would say that the ability to combine fashion and sport and kind of build a world around this thing that I really love has been the part that’s been special for me. Fashion and modelling in the beginning gave me an amazing opportunity to give fencing a platform. Suddenly I was in a world where fencing is very niche. Fashion is global, it’s international and it gave me an opportunity to take the language and the things that fencing taught me and apply it to being present and on stage or on a runway. And then from there, moving further into fashion and being in design and creative spaces. I think that area, of being behind the camera and meeting creative people, working with photographers, working with stylists, it really put fencing in perspective for me and taught me a lot.
I think that sports teaches you a lot about your body, teaches you a lot about being comfortable in places of uncomfort. I think that being able to adjust and perform and compete with an opponent, a real person, teaches you a lot about how to function and to be in front of a camera and all those things. It definitely helped me stay calm and being on set or being in front of a camera was not the thing that made me freak out that much.
Recently you’ve gotten behind the camera with directing, writing and filmmaking. That’s quite a change of career, from sport to the film industry. Is this something you’ve always been interested in?
It started with writing. As a kid I wrote a lot of poetry and as I got older I would take notes and kind of write down scenes and realize that I wasn’t really writing pros for a book. I was more writing scenes and I collected these moments from my travels and from sport. And it felt like a really good way to kind of comprehend what was going on in my life. It was a way for me to not just live it, but to reflect upon it and to make decisions about who I wanted to be and where I wanted to be. And if the world was completely in my control, what would I build and what spaces do I see and what stories do I wanna tell. Then I just crafted that into being on set and assisting.
My father was a producer, so I kind of had been around that world for a long time. My father used to call me in and make me watch scenes and show me movies. And obviously, New York is notorious for its cinema and the stories that grew up there. From ‘Raging Bull’, De Niro, Scorsese and all the year round icons. So I think that kind of progressed and pushed me into more creative fields.
For me, I think it’s really creation in general. Whether it’s writing or design or cinematography, I think that there’s people who specialize in each and then as a director you get to come in and kind of craft the story and craft the world. And that’s been really incredible for me, to come in and do that, because I have a lot of stories to tell. I’ve been doing a lot of crazy stuff since I was a kid and I’m excited to start to share my perspective and let my creations explain and speak for themselves.
What would you love to achieve in your career as a director and filmmaker?
It’s just about being able to follow through and create. If that is something that people love, so be it. If it brings up feelings and people like it, I’m very happy about it. I just released a film with Victory Journal about my experience before and after the Olympic games. It’s about hings like that, being able to take control of the narrative and really express myself. I think that for a long time I’ve kind of been placed in other people’s worlds. You’re on set, you’re in someone else’s clothes, you’re doing something else. It’s time for me to really develop and express myself with creativity.
You are a huge supporter of humanitarian efforts that include your diligent allyship with the BIPOC communities. Why is this cause so close to you?
I would say that the cause isn’t close to me, I’m just able to see it. And I think that being able to see it is the first step and if you can see it, you can’t ignore it. I grew up in New York. I grew up around a very diverse community of people. My fiancée is a person of color, she’s French and from Guadalupe. I think that the place that America has been in, will be in and is trying to change, Is something that I felt like I needed to speak up on. I used my platform that at the time was sport. It was a place for me to create and to use a voice, but really I find myself to be more of a vessel, more of a place that I can speak up on something or draw attention to something in a very minimal way. I don’t have a million people following me. I have a large enough community and some people take what I say seriously. I think being able to speak up and share is a gift.
And then I turned that work into specifically working with the IOC on Rule 50 that allows athletes to speak up. I think it was really important to allow people to speak and to gain access to this platform that not everybody has. I don’t always wanna speak from other people’s perspective, but this is something that I can speak on and I do feel comfortable working with and I know has massive effects on people that I care about, including people of color, including people that are in my communities in New York City, in metropolitan areas and my family. So this is kind of how I approached it, but importantly it’s because I can see it.
You also support organizations such as Everytown, which advocates for gun control and against gun violence in America. We’ve seen and read too many sad and tragic news on this in the last years.
Everytown is the largest organization against gun violence in the US and particularly gun violence has been something that I’ve honed in on as it’s something that affects everybody. It’s affected my family personally and it is a massive issue in the US right now. And it predominantly affects people of color.
The way I approach it is that I don’t think you need to be the loudest person in the room. I think it’s important to share and to understand that there’s actions to be taken. I don’t consider myself an activist, because an activist is someone who does work all the time. That’s their main profession. My profession at the time was fencing, but whatever it is I do, I will express my opinion through it. And that will always be to love and support people that are around me. I don’t have hatred for anybody. I just wish that we could move past our differences and see that there’s a place that is built around love. And I think that involves ending gun violence and involves Black Lives Matter and people of color feeling empowered. There’s a place for all of that in the world.
If you had the power, what would you do to stop gun violence?
The term gun control is thrown around a lot, but it’s just producing more laws and legislations that protect those of us who are vulnerable to the guns. There’s too many guns in the US. There’s too much gun violence. And a lot of that has to do with how you can acquire guns. Now we can 3D print guns. You can go to trade shows and essentially gun shows and buy guns without background checks.
We have laws for everything, we have warnings on everything and we don’t apply that to gun violence. We have women going through issues with their body and Roe v. Wade and you can see how much goes into that. We need to take that and apply that the same way to gun violence and say that we have people whose lives are endangered and we don’t have a say in it.
I think that America speaks up on a lot of issues and we’re very loud and sometimes that comes off badly, but it also brings to the forefront a lot of issues that aren’t being spoken about in a lot of places. It’s very important that we continue that and we continue to listen to the people who are speaking up, listen to the people we love.
Do you plan on staying in Europe now that you’re in France or do you plan on returning to the US?
I move around, I’m never locked down to any place, but I’m happy to be spending a lot of time with my fiancée Ysaora. I’m happy to be in Paris, I think it’s a really beautiful city. And the people I’ve been meeting here have been absolutely wonderful and hospitable. So anywhere that I can go where I’m surrounded by people I’m inspired by and that I respect, I’m happy to be there.
How do you, as an American, get used to life in Europe?
It’s different. I’ll always be an American. I’m a New Yorker first, so I’ll always be a New Yorker. The way I function is New York, I’m on the go all the time and I like that. I’m always pushing, I have a hard time with vacation, so slowing down has been very good for me. I think the culture here is really nice and something that I want to help infuse into my lifestyle. My mother is European, my father was American. I think it’s always been a mix of those cultures. I’m just gonna let it happen, I’m gonna live here and we’ll see how it rubs off on me.
Interview by Jana Letonja
Talent: Race Imboden
Photographer: Jan Philipzen
Fashion editor: Gabriella Norberg
Hair: Jacob Kairup at Calliste
Make-up: Valentine Perrin Morali at Artists Unit
Set design: Sati Leonne Faulks at Bryant Artists
Photo assistant: Kaj Lehner
Fashion assistant: Tala Haddad
Set assistant: Rachel Marxx
Casting: Timi Letonja
Special thanks to Danielle Maxwell at The Maxx Agency and 3537.org