Old Westbury fencing prodigy strives for greatness

Old Westbury fencing prodigy strives for greatness
Jayden Hooshi in full fencing attire. The fencer from Old Westbury, who is ranked nationally, just took home a silver medal in the USA Fencing Summer Nationals Championships. (Photo courtesy of Vivian Hooshi)

If you asked Jayden Hooshi back when he was 8 years old what drew him to fencing, he would have said it reminded him of “Star Wars.”

Now 14, his excellent fencing abilities have not yet brought him to a galaxy far, far away. On this planet, however, he’s still one to watch.

A rising freshman at Jericho High School, the Old Westbury resident recently won a silver medal in the USA Fencing Summer Nationals Championships.

He will soon be a member of the national cadet team for USA Fencing. In the upcoming months, he will compete in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy.

Gidon Retzkin, founder/head coach of the East Coast Fencing Club in Roslyn and a former member of the Israeli National Team, said Jayden’s “fighting spirit” is second to none.

“That’s something that is very hard to teach. It’s almost impossible,” he said. “The technical part is much easier, but having the will and wanting to win is almost impossible to teach. But he has it, which makes my life a lot easier.”

When Jayden was 8, he first observed his brother Dylan, another talented fencer, practicing. This led to him picking up the sport, too. Although humble, he said that he and his parents soon recognized his talents.

“When I was around 8 years old, my parents brought me to many competitions and I was racking up all the gold medals,” he said. “My national ranking was coming out, and I was entering bigger events.”

Retzkin said that even at that young age, Jayden’s skills were obvious.

“Right from the beginning, he was extremely talented,” he said. “Very, very passionate. He was not afraid of anyone.”

The three disciplines of modern fencing are foil, épée and sabre. One earns winning points when the weapon contacts an opponent.

Besides employing a separate weapon, each form has its own set of rules. Most competitive fencers opt to focus on one weapon. Jayden specializes in foil.

In foil, a point can only be scored by placing the blade’s tip near the opponent’s torso (shoulders to groin in front and to the waist in the back). One cannot hit an adversary in the arms, legs, neck or head.

“There’s more precision needed for foil compared to the other weapons,” said Jayden.

Although not fencers themselves, his parents, Vivian and Mark Hooshi, understand what it takes to raise a talented one. Dylan, a rising senior at Jericho High School, recently committed to Notre Dame. Erica, his older sister, fences for Yale University.

“A lot of people refer to fencing as physical chess. It really requires a lot of thinking and strategizing and making the right move at the right moment,” said Mark Hooshi. “I think that makes it attractive for a lot of colleges to have kids that have this calibre of level that they can deal with stressful situations. Plus, they can deal with failure because the majority of kids end up going home teary-eyed.”

Talent alone won’t get you into a school like Yale or Notre Dame, however. Jayden’s parents take great pride in his strong academics despite devoting 12-plus hours a week to fencing.

Many competitions in North America span several weekdays, as Vivian Hooshi noted. This means that besides competing schoolwork is also a factor.

“He takes high school classes and he has to catch up with all the work he needs to do,” she said. “And in all those high school classes, he was able to score A’s, which is not very easy to do.”

Time zones and jet lag can be crucial factors in a speedy and technical sport for competitions held outside of North America. But despite the time and traveling, his parents said they’re happy that he has something he loves to do.

“I can see that [my siblings are] very successful in being who they are. Fencing helps you with everyday life,” said Jayden. “It makes you more street smart. Like something’s coming at you, you can dodge it.”

Those in his camp recognize that despite having already won so much, he is still growing both figuratively and literally. Retzkin said he was proud of Jayden’s improvement as a fencer from the time when they first met.

“The sky’s really the limit for him, so it really depends on him,” he said. “If he wants to continue working hard — he’s very talented — it’s going to be very easy for him.”

Beyond his forthcoming time with the USA Fencing national cadet team, Jayden plans to follow his siblings and continue to compete in college. His dreams don’t end there, though.

“I’m trying to aim for the best that I can do and always build on that. Even if I might lose one bout, at least I can build on my fencing and go back into my videos with my coach and review,” he said. “I hope to fence in college, of course, and maybe strive higher for the Olympics.”

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