Here is Part 2 from our Guest Blogger: Kris Ekeren, Executive Director of @USAFencing!
Celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Feb. 7!
In case you didn’t get a chance to read part 1 of this series, you can read it here.
USA Fencing is incredibly fortunate to have a rich history of strong female athletes who have gone on to do great things both inside and outside of our sport. Fencers continuously have some of the highest GPAs of any athletes at both the high school and collegiate level and the work ethic held by fencers on the strip translates into the classroom as well where athletes manage training and competing with studying and exams.
Female fencers have gone on to become successful in all fields from science and engineering to business and medicine. All of the outstanding women you saw competing on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team competed as fencers in college and many of Team USA’s top female fencers have balanced training with attending top universities throughout the United States. In addition to competing in fencing in high school and college, many fencers continue to train at the highest levels while pursuing med school, grad school and other higher education opportunities.
Olympian Lee Kiefer recently began her first year of med school while training for gold on the World Cup circuit and has received much support from the fencing community for her hard work on the strip and in the classroom. But Lee is one of many women who have pursued their Olympic dreams while earning advanced degrees. Currently she is joined by Kamali Thompson who earned an MBA during her pursuit of qualification for the 2016 Games and is a second year med student as she aims to compete at her first Olympics in 2020. Lee and Kamali follow in the footsteps of many successful female Olympians who trained for the Games while preparing for successful careers, including three-time Olympian Ann Marsh-Senic who finished her final years of med school during the leadup to her third Olympic Games in 2000. In fact, many readers of this blog may not know that Kelley Hurley was pursuing a master’s degree in public health during her preparation for competing at her third Olympic Games in Rio and that Courtney is not only one of the best epee fencers in U.S. history, but that she holds a degree in film, television and theatre from Notre Dame as well. And that was after Kelley, Courtney and their teammates Maya Lawrence and Susie Scanlan rewrote the record books as the first U.S. women ever to stand on the Olympic podium in epee when they won bronze in 2012.
And these women are not alone. I am inspired when I hear the stories of athletes who broke gender, racial and class barriers while participating in fencing. From women like Ruth White who was the first African-American woman to fence at the Olympic Games to Mariel Zagunis who became our first female Olympic Champion …From Iris Zimmermann who won the first World title for an American (male or female) to former USA Fencing President Stacey Johnson who fought for gender equity at the Olympic Games with the addition of women’s saber to the program to Ibtihaj Muhammad who became the first U.S. woman to compete in a hijab at the Games … USA Fencing has been the home to thousands of strong and successful fencers who continue to have had a positive impact on the lives of young women in the United States and around the world.
Their dedication to the sport is remarkable and I know they will serve as role models for the girls who are just picking up a weapon for the first time. My 10-year-old daughter recently took her first fencing class and, whether she chooses to compete or just enjoys a new outlet for her love of sports, she will have a myriad of great women to look up to.
USA Fencing recently asked for suggestions of women to highlight on NGWS Day and the response was overwhelming and inspiring. We saw names of athletes, coaches, referees and administrators – all who have a great story to tell.
So this year on National Girls and Women in Sports Day, let’s remember the triumphs of the past, celebrate the athletes of the present and look to the future as we introduce and encourage more girls and women to participate in the great sport of fencing.