With more focused intent on our whole community needs, we want to create the strongest and most inclusive competitive sport model in the United States.
610 North Duke St.
Durham, NC 27701
Founder’s Letter of Intent
This is a letter from Coach Jen Oldham surrounding the circumstances of the founding of Forge Foundation.
To My Fellow Coaches, Parents, Athletes and Peers:
United States competitive sport leaders today are questioning the intersectionality between gender, class, age and disability. We are reevaluating what inclusiveness, fairness, and just practices look like in a competitive environment. We can do better!
My own professional journey during the Covid quarantine brought me to an introspective pause. In addition to feeling worn out and exhausted working a demanding 7-day a week schedule, I found myself trying to keep up with teams from more wealthy communities and with other coaches who were willing to win while sacrificing fairness and inclusivity — competing and coaching on their terms violated my personal value system. Racism, sexism and discrimination started squelching the joy out of my coaching world. I wanted to quit. They wanted me to quit.
During my time of reflection, I felt moved to reevaluate my professional direction. I questioned if my goals were truly my own, or manufactured by the sport world I was working for in order to achieve results. Covid highlighted how out of balance support for small businesses was compared to large corporations. Small health and sports-minded business owners were exhausted trying to save their life’s work. Racial tensions and the resulting fury revealed that the balance of power in America was off. The frailty of democracy was palpable.
Gaslighting and normalized abuse have left many of us in the fencing world angry and frustrated. Systems and laws set up to protect us — failed. Mid-South Fencers’ Club community members experienced division, strain and additional anxiety through abuse of power relating to my own abuse disclosures – I couldn’t fix it. Furthermore in navigating hierarchal and patriarchal power structures I had observed many talented women and men being pushed out of our sport. Women, in particular, endured harassment and discrimination all for the sake of … what?
As any good coach would ask their student, I asked myself, “What can I control?” I analyzed my business practices. I questioned ways the fencing club I founded in 2007, Mid-South Fencers’ Club, participated in discrimination unwittingly. While benefiting from the rise of the youth sport’s industry, I asked myself, ‘Am I doing enough to squelch further divisions among my neighbors?’ If possible, could I make more of a difference in my own backyard?
As a professional coach, I felt caught between having to make a living, servicing our basic community needs, and managing the personal cost advancing professionally had actually cost my family. Fortunately, after introspection, the benefits of rebuilding far outweighed my frustration. The inspiration from our community, athletes, parents and coaching staff kept our coaching staff going and inspired our community to expand our standards of success. For the collective support we have received, cheering and guidance, I am eternally grateful.
Through this experience I came to the conclusion we need to reevaluate our training and community support systems. I believe our fencing community, with the help of neighbors close and far, will be up for this re-imagination. With greater, more deliberate intent on rebuilding teams, and improved metrics for evaluating success, we will come back stronger and more united.
Reflecting back on our team’s development over the past decade, I decided to tweak Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a model to rebuild. This scale is based on motivation. The values behind motivation is something all competitors can relate with. By going deeper into understanding our human growth potential I believe we will develop better ways to hold ourselves accountable and track our progress in a competitive environment. I believe understanding how we process competition is a key component, often overlooked, to understanding forces of fairness and justice we strive for within the United States.
Ready to use my coaching and business leadership tenure to evolve our industry, while continuing to coach, I believe there are many sporting communities ready to prepare themselves to have a greater impact on positive social change around issues of equity, fairness, and justice. I am determined to serve with strength and poise and I look forward to seeing the collective energy emerge, grow, expand, and evolve.
Coach Jen Oldham
Meet a few of the folks making this happen…
We’re just getting started! Reach out to us and connect.
Founder and Executive Director
Jen is a Fencing Master, Sport Entrepreneur and Coach. She was worked locally and internationally in fencing in Durham beginning in 2007.
Caroline is a former Notre Dame fencer who moved to the area to work in the tech industry from Texas.