Meet Aleks Ochocki Advance Fencing and Fitness Academy

Name: Aleksander Ochocki

Position: Founder

Company Name: Advance Fencing & Fitness Academy 


Location: Garwood, NJ

Phone Number: (908)290-5055


Cover Photography Provided by Mark DeHanes

Since being named as head coach to lead the women’s fencing team in the Olympics in Paris this summer, how has your life changed? You must be traveling all over, right?

I wouldn’t say my life changed too much. I was already doing quite a bit of traveling with the AFFA kids to numerous international tournaments but now I have to do more planning and organizing for the teams as a whole. Traveling has definitely increased because they’re more tournaments for the senior level athletes and training camps especially during the qualifications process and leading up to the Paris games.

What does it take to put the team together? How many fencers made the team? 

We travel with 12 athletes to World Cups and Grand Prix but the National and Olympic Team is made up of only 4 athletes. As the Head Coach of the Women’s Saber program, I’m also responsible for the Junior (U20) and Cadet (U17) teams. So that includes their competition planning, camps, and making sure we are developing the next generation.

How do you feel about your team’s chances as we get closer to the Games?

Our goal is clear, we are going for GOLD! The team is young but has shown success and proves they can compete with anyone.

Your family and your team at Advance Fencing and Fitness Academy must be happy for you. What has that been like?

It’s been great, my family will be going to Paris to support Team USA and see us in action. The team at AFFA is the reason it’s all possible. With my crazy travel schedule leading up to the Games, our coaches and staff have held the fort down and ensured our athletes are continuing their development and preparations for their upcoming tournaments.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get into the sport? What attracted you to this sport? 

My parents both moved here 35-plus years ago to escape communist Poland. I grew up in Clark, NJ, and was fortunate to find fencing, later going on to represent the United States on U-17, U-20, and Senior National Teams. Won a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships in 2010 and a gold medal at the Pan American Championships in 2013. I received a full athletic scholarship for fencing to Penn State University, where I won 4 NCAA Championships and was a Four-Time 1st Team All-American.

What have been achievements in your life that have led to being named Olympic Coach? 

It’s a culmination of many years of hard work and dedication as an athlete and later coach. I believe my athletic achievements were a great start but ultimately it’s what you can develop as a coach and if you have the leadership skills to carry a program. Our AFFA athletes have gone on to make numerous national teams and win many international medals, so I think that was a deciding factor.

Advance Fencing and Fitness Academy has been very successful through the years.  When did you open?

I founded AFFA in 2013 thanks to the help of Ralph Bernardo and Clark Recreation’s interest in starting an after-school fencing program. That program set the foundation for what was later to become. Within half a year of starting, AFFA found a more permanent home as we built out a state-of-the-art facility.

How did you pick Garwood to be your location for the Academy? 

I chose Garwood because it is close to the community I grew up in and wanted to give kids a chance to learn life lessons and gain the same opportunities I was given through the sport.

How did you choose your career path? 

I found it by chance. I coached younger kids when I was in high school and college and due to an injury, I had to take a step back during my recovery period, that’s when the opportunity to run after-school programs was presented to me and I fell in love with teaching and watching the kids develop.

What challenges did you overcome? 

As an athlete, I overcame many challenges. I had one foot and four knee surgeries which forced me to train even harder to recover and continue my athletic career. I knew that no matter what would be in my path as a business owner I could conquer it the same way.

How has the sport grown through the years? 

The sport has grown tremendously over the years thanks to the success of U.S. athletes at the Olympics and the growth of fencing programs collegiately and in high schools.

What is unique about the Academy, what sets you apart from the rest? 

We have a tremendous coaching staff of very experienced coaches and athletes from all over the world. We take an individualized approach to each student, giving them the tools they need to succeed in the sport and life.

Tell us about your team and their backgrounds.

Our team is pretty special. We have fencing master Sara Vicenzin, who joined us from Italy where her students were members of the Italian National Team and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Team. Next, we have Kuba Jaskot, who is a multiple-time Polish National Champion and a member of the Polish National Team. In May of last year, Melvin Rodrigues joined as staff, he was a member of the Puerto Rican National Team and a graduate and varsity athlete for Columbia University. Lastly, we have Michael Szczesniak, a former national medalist and collegiate fencer at Steven’s Institute of Technology.

Where do your students come from and what’s a typical day like? 

Our students come from all over New Jersey and even from all over the world. We have had students move to the United States to train with us. Our younger athletes are normal kids, they go to school, do their homework and then come to practice like most other sports. Our elite athletes train during the day on their physical conditioning or one on one lessons and later do sparring and group drills.

Your students have done remarkably well. Can you tell us some of your students who earned top titles? Also, have your students gained scholarships? Where?

Our students have won many international medals as well as World Championship medals. They have represented the United States on multiple national teams. They have received scholarships and have been recruited to the top universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Notre Dame and Northwestern just to name a few. Our 2024 graduating class will continue their athletic and academic careers at Brown, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, NYU, UPenn and Tufts. We are probably more proud of their academic achievements than their athletic achievements.

Briefly, tell us about your programs:

We provide high level instruction in a safe and fun environment for anyone looking to try the sport regardless of their goals. We coach students as young as six-years-old and up to our adult athletes just looking for a great workout and camaraderie.

What do you love most about the sport and what advice would you offer to people who are interested?

I love the individual aspect of the sport, that you must rely on yourself and no one else. Even though we have teammates, when we are competing it is all up to you. The best advice is to stick with it. Progress and success do not happen overnight, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.

How can entrepreneurs learn from your path and be inspired?

It’s pretty simple. Follow your dreams and bet on yourself. Believe that you can accomplish what you set out to do and choose something that you’re good at and interests you.

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