Mather's Own Zorro:

Kwame van Leeuwen Foils His Way Through Harvard

Donning a real sword for Halloween, junior Kwame van Leeuwen, a world championship fencer, appropriately chose to be Zorro, the master of drape swinging and savior for those in distress.

No one else could come close to filling the masked avenger's shoes. After lunging with his first foil at age eight, van Leeuwen knew he had found his calling. At the ripe age of 12, the half Haitian half Dutch Kwame won his first international fencing championship in Germany. Just out of high school, van Leeuwen was ranked 13th internationally.

Between bites of pizza and chocolate chip cookies, van Leeuwen, in a hybrid American-European accent, explains what it takes to be a successful fencer.

"To excel in fencing one needs to be in excellent physical shape, but more importantly, he needs to know how to implement the right strategy," van Leeuwen says. "It's a fast paced sport, you need to think cautiously while on the strip, know how to quickly determine your next move and quickly react to your opponent."

Since his arrival at Harvard, van Leeuwen has proven his mental and physical abilities on Harvard's fencing strip. During his first year, he placed second in the NCAA tournament and earned first team All American and All Ivy honors.


As a sophomore, he was the first Harvard student in 43 years to win the Intercollegiate Fencing Association (IFA) championship. Both years, he was properly named Harvard's most valuable fencing player.

Currently the Harvard fencing captain, van Leeuwen aspires to become the NCAA champion and to participate in the '96 Olympics. These two accomplishments would add an impressive addition to his dorm room full of trophies.

But the Olympics are nothing new to van Leeuwen. Two years ago, he was in Barcelona, Spain competing for a spot on the U.S. Team.

"The reason I didn't make it was because the final competition in Paris conflicted with spring finals. I had to come back to Harvard and missed a chance a acquiring the necessary qualifying points," van Leeuwen says.

Just like Zoro, van Leeuwen doesn't just fence, he is also "concerned with others' well being." Inspired by his Haitian roots, van Leeuwen is an active member of Harvard's Haitian alliance. Future, non-fencing plans, include a possible trip to that troubled country.

While not on the strip or doing public service, van Leeuwen enjoys listening to hip hop, going out with friends, watching Townsend or Living Color, and talking with his mom.

If he can't watch fencers, especially his idol, Mauro Muna, van Leeuwen chooses to watch basketball. His favorite team is the Chicago Bulls ("I'm a band-wagonner," van Leeuwen explains). Yet if he had cable, he would be glued to soccer games.

"I'd love to see the Dutch national soccer team win," he says.

Van Leeuwen is also an impressive academic. He speaks six languages, works as a research assistant for an economics professor and has "a mega computer system in his room," according to his roommate.

A born New Yorker, van Leeuwen picked up the languages when he competed in international tournaments in Italy, Portugal, France, Russia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Turkey. His favorite places have been those in which he was victorious.

"In Budapest, I went out in the first round, I fenced terribly. Afterwards I hated the city," he says. "The year later, I did really well--now I love Budapest."