Alumni Spotlights are Q&A's with former Brandeis student-athletes, across a myriad of disciplines, as they reflect on their Brandeis experience and how it has shaped their lives today. Read more spotlight features here.
Name: Damien Lehfeldt '09
Job Title: Manager of Enterprise Stratey & Change
Institution: Navy Federal Credit Union
Damien Lehfeldt ‘09 is a native of Tampa, Florida, who came to Brandeis as a member of the men’s fencing team. A four-year starter, he won gold at the Intercollegiate Fencing Association and helped the Judges win back-to-back Northeast Fencing Conference championships as a member of the epee squad. He was named to the UAA All-Academic team as a junior.
Since graduating, Damien has worked as a manager and consultant for numerous companies in the Northern Virginia area. With expertise in change management, communications, organizational effectiveness, and learning & development, he has led large and complex initiatives with financial services companies, specializing in customer experience strategy and execution, most recently joining Navy Federal Credit Union in 2020.
In addition to his professional work, Damien has remained active in fencing coaching. He has written the popular The Fencing Coach blog since 2012. That same year, he helped coach the U.S.’s Suzanne Stetinus to the London Olympics in Modern Pentathlon.
Describe your overall experience as a student-athlete. What does it mean to you now/what did it mean to you while you were an undergraduate?
Being a student-athlete at Brandeis was chaos, in the best way possible. My memories of college are mostly from sprinting from practice to class to get to each activity on time, studying for exams on dimly lit busses, and late-night paper-writing in the secluded confines of the library.
When I was a student at Brandeis, this experience meant everything to me. There was little downtime to breathe, and from the moment my alarm went off in the morning for practice, it was non-stop go-time until I put my head down for a few hours of sleep. What it means to me now is even more important. Some of my life’s fondest memories are from the Brandeis Fencing team. My teammates meant a lot to me then, and they still mean a lot to me now. We formed lifelong bonds that haven’t lost strength, even 13 years after graduating.
What originally attracted you to Brandeis as a student-athlete?
All it took was one overnight stay at Brandeis for me to know I wanted to apply there early. I was awestruck by the beauty of the campus and the quality of the athletic facilities and knew that Coach Bill Shipman would be instrumental in advancing my abilities as a fencer. So for me, it was a no-brainer. I knew I wanted to be a Brandeis Judge and I wouldn’t accept any other outcome.
How did your time as a student and student-athlete at Brandeis prepare you for your career and life after college?
Being a student-athlete teaches you the ability to manage your time in a way that’s transferable to post-student life. Juggling the academic rigors of Brandeis with the demands of being a varsity athlete required carefully planned days and being able to allocate my time down to the minute.
Post-college, this ability to manage time isn’t so different. I currently work a full-time job at Navy Federal Credit Union on our Enterprise Change Management team, I now coach at Nova Fencing Club in Falls Church, Virginia. I'm training to become a certified Fencing master, and I have a one-year-old daughter! So I’m grateful for what I learned at Brandeis in terms of time management skills because I definitely don’t have a lot of time on my hands these days!
Do you have any advice for current or future Brandeis Student-Athletes?
Even beyond varsity sports, Brandeis has an incredible amount to offer. Four years go by quickly, so immerse yourself in as much as you can. I was a member of Starving Artists a cappella, I played rugby (even though we weren’t allowed to as fencers, by coach’s mandate!), was very active in Chabad, joined a fraternity, and even did a couple of theater shows. So if you see something that interests you, don’t second guess yourself - just do it!
Latch onto as many professors and mentors as you can, because I was fortunate enough to build lifelong relationships with them, and learning from them didn’t end when I received my diploma.
What do you miss most about your Brandeis experience?
There was something truly incredible about rolling out of bed and being within arm’s reach of some of academia’s finest minds. I was able to take classes with Robert Reich, Thomas Friedman, Jeffrey Abramson, and other leaders in geopolitical thought. I think when I was a student, I took for granted just how amazing it was to learn from these people first-hand.
Outside the classroom, I miss reveling in the joys of victory with my teammates, sharing tears in defeat, and long days in the recording studio with Starving Artists.
What was it about fencing at Brandeis that inspired you to continue coaching?
For me, it was about sharing my love of the sport with others, because that’s the spirit with which Bill Shipman operated. It is not uncommon for Coach Shipman’s former pupils to be inspired to pick up coaching as our competitive careers wind down. In American fencing, most fencers retire upon graduating college, but it was commonplace for Shipman’s pupils to continue after.
The number of his former fencers who have become coaches is staggering. Olympic Silver Medalist Tim Morehouse (Class of 2000) now runs a successful club in the tri-state area, Brendan Doris-Pierce (Class of 2007) is the head coach of Boston College, and Chris Spencer (Class of 1994) is the head coach at Haverford, to name a few.
I would have never gotten into coaching if not for him, and I’m grateful to have learned from him.
What personal or professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of since you graduated?
Nothing makes me prouder than being a father, and hopefully my one year old will become a fencer herself down the road! As a coach, I’m incredibly proud to have coached an Olympian in Modern Pentathlon (2012) and got to go over to those Olympics. Professionally, I was proud to have gotten the “Exceed Award” at my previous company which is awarded by leadership to the top Consultant firm-wide.