Guest Blogger – Robert Hurley (aka Coach Papa Hurley) – Part 1 of 3.

Since our family has been a great source of our success, we asked our dad, Robert Hurley, to provide some insight into his thinking in terms of what makes a successful fencer.  As a point of reference, he also provides some historical context at various points in our career (i.e., as youth, junior, and senior fencers). His insights are below and will continue in three parts over the next three weeks. We hope you enjoy!


bob-kelAs many of you may know, I met Tracy (my wife and Kelley & Courtney’s mother) at a fencing club many years ago.  It was the love and respect of each other and the sport that has bonded our relationship not only to each other but also as a family.  Kelley was 9 and Courtney was 7 years old when they started fencing. The story of their success consists of many phases and these phases are probably fairly typical for young fencers so I thought I would hit the highlights that we focused on as they grew.

Kelley & Courtney attended their first tournament at a National Championships held in Austin, Texas. They were 10 and 7 years old, respectively.  We initially entered them in the tournament because it was relatively close to home and we wanted to see what a Youth 10 tournament looked like.  The youth circuit was not nearly as advanced as it is now and there were only a few youth tournaments around. What we found out at that tournament completely changed our lives!  I still remember being amazed at all of the little “professional” looking youth 10 fencers out there with their expensive uniforms and equipment.  Kelley & Courtney were wearing hand-me-downs that were too big and zipped up the back (for you non-fencers that is a tell-tale sign of a beginner). Well, they were soundly whipped by most of the fencers and we left the event with two crying children who vowed they would never fence again!  Such a short career!!

Well, a month or so later, they were bugging us to start fencing again!  We knew at that point, they were hooked. What happened over the next 20 years has been a focused attack on figuring out the sport of fencing!

As young female fencers, we felt it was most important to focus on athleticism. That is they were too young to train exclusively for fencing and really needed a good grounding in sports. They spent a lot of time swimming, running, playing softball and basketball, and of course, fencing.  Somewhere around the time that Kelley turned 13, she begin to primarily focus on fencing as her main sport while complementing with other sports for aerobic conditioning. Courtney, who is 2.5 years younger, was still primarily bouncing basketballs and throwing softballs around although she definitely wanted to do the same workouts that big sis was doing! That happened, soon enough…

Our biggest focus was to emphasize footwork: aerobic and anaerobic footwork. We coupled their footwork with technique-focused lessons and regular tournaments. By this time, the Southwest Section of U.S. Fencing, had initiated a very successful Regional Youth Circuit for youth fencers and the Hurleygurrls attended every event! In the early days, these events were mixed (i.e., both boys and girls competed together).

Interestingly enough, the fact they were mixed events provided an excellent opportunity for Kelley & Courtney to compete against the boys – which, in general, are much more aggressive and athletic, than girls. We figured, if they could beat the boys….the girls wouldn’t stand a chance (this information will be important, later).

The focus of these years was footwork and conditioning and while the girls split their time between foil and epee, the footwork was similar enough to not cause any issue. In order to make the workouts as convenient as possible (fewer opportunities for distraction), I built a plywood fencing strip in the backyard that allowed us to just step outside and take care of business. A thirty minute fencing workout was sufficient at this point in time. The focus of the footwork was bouncing with advancing and retreating at different speeds. During their younger years, typically, they did 10 x 1 minute footwork drills (with 30 seconds of rest between) which included speed intensity during the last 10 seconds. Tracy would also give them a 15 minute lesson which concluded the 30 minute workout. Typically, we would do these workouts 3 times a week and go to the fencing club twice a week where they would bout.

During this time, Kelley & Courtney began to dominate both the Regional and National youth events in both foil and epee.  At one national championships, they had the fortune of winning the Youth 14 foil and epee (Kelley) and the Youth 12 foil and epee (Courtney) events. Btw, they no longer had back-zip jackets!

This routine continued for about 2 years until Kelley started to travel to international cadet (Under-17) events at the age of 14. This put a whole new slant on the project!

Stay Tuned for next week’s post as we enter the world of international fencing!