By Serena Feldman
Most high school students participate in a few activities. Many are varsity athletes, however, there are only a handful on an exclusive travel team. Even fewer people can boast being part of the US National Cadet and Junior Teams. And less can say that they were in Sports Illustrated. Senior Sylvie Binder can.
Fresh off of her Worlds Cadet (under 17) gold and Junior (under 20) silver win this past April, Binder was invited to Portland for what she thought was an National Team photoshoot – just another day in her life. Instead, she was greeted by Olympic legend Mariel Zagunis who, with TD Ameritrade, took her and her father, Jeffrey Binder, to the Rio Olympics this summer. Binder, who is no stranger to traveling the world, had never been to South America. Rio was, according the Mr. Binder, “an amazing city, and was a great chance for her to see up close and personal to see how an olympic athlete prepares at that level. TD Ameritrade gave her a unique opportunity. She was able to train a little bit without the pressure. It could give her a possible edge if she does get to compete at that level.”
Binder, who has dreamed about the Olympics since she was in elementary school, says, “going to Rio has really opened my eyes to the reality that one day, I could represent the United States.”
Binder’s reality is a little different from the rest of ours. But it isn’t like she doesn’t work hard. She trains at her club, Fencing Academy of Westchester, five times a week for 2-4 hours, and exercises daily to keep herself in Olympic shape. Before you go on her Instagram (@sylvie_binder) and get jealous of her abs, there’s more; Binder was also recently inducted into Cum Laude. Binder is the epitome of a scholar athlete who deserves all that she works towards, including her acceptance into Columbia University. Her father is immensely proud of her hard work and motivation and brags about how “It was never a problem to get her to sit down and do her homework.” I personally have received many a text message (using airplane Wifi of course) from Binder while she is on a 10 hour flight from somewhere in Eastern Europe asking to go over the end of our AP English book because she is coming in at 3 am, but is still planning on taking Mrs. Squadron’s quiz. And I’m not the only one who can see her dedication, or as her coaches call it, “grit.” The master of grit, Mr. Allen, who has taught Sylvie for two years, is amazed by how different “her persona with a foil in her hands [is] versus her persona walking through the halls.” Always dedicated to both school and her sport, Mr. Allen is very impressed with how school work still comes before fencing. “I even remember having a discussion with her about the Revolutions of 1848 from her hotel room in Europe.”
Binder has a strong support system in place for the stress of her life path that includes friends and family. Briana Feldman, one of her best friends, says “It’s so amazing to watch her get the recognition that she deserves. We are so unbelievably proud of Sylvie.”
But Binder is also incredibly self-motivated. Mr. Binder remembers that “When she was younger, we used to try to get her to put on her headphones and warm up, get away from the hustle and bustle of the competition, just try to concentrate, but she was able to do that herself. She’s got a winning formula, whatever it is. She created it, and we trust her with what she’s doing.”
She should get her formula patented. Since becoming a national champion at 12 years old, Binder has won so many medals that they do not all fit on the hook she has for them. Some special medals include 2016 Cadet World Champion, 2016 Junior Olympic Champion, and silver 2016 Junior Team. Binder is ranked #1 in her age group and is a two-time World Team member. Binder started fencing at just 6 years old, and chose it because “fencing is different. It’s not a sport you see on TV, and I liked the idea of the mental physical challenge that it offers.”
For Sylvie Binder, fencing is more than just a sport she’s really good at. She says that “Fencing has been life changing for me. I don’t believe that I live in the bubble that many people my age live in; I’ve been able to travel the world and represent my country all while doing what I love and gaining worldly knowledge.” Binder has friends all over the world from every continent, except Antarctica. She traded an old pair of US Fencing sweatpants for a Italian National Team jacket. Binder has experienced more things in her high school career than most of us will experience in our entire lifetimes.
I for one, am so proud of my best friend. I am blessed to have been able to watch her go from being sneered at when she says that she wants to be an Olympian to Sports Illustrated telling her that she can do it. She is also an amazing friend who is surrounded by an aura of love. I’m excited to see what more comes from such a great person, and am excited to tell my kids the same thing my own parents jokingly tell me, “Be more like Sylvie!”