Guest Blogger – Robert Hurley (aka Coach Papa Hurley) – Part 2 of 3.

Courtney (12) and Kelley (14)

As I discussed last week, speed, athleticism, and conditioning were the focus of Kelley & Courtney’s fencing workouts. A nice homemade plywood fencing strip (built on top of pallets) provided a convenient way to get the workouts done with minimal fuss.  By the time Kelley was 14 and Courtney was 12, they had just about given up fencing foil and we were all fencing at the U.S. Modern Pentathlon club. As you can imagine, there was a lot of fresh meat for practicing. For those of you who don’t know much about Modern Pentathlon, it contains 5 sports and one of them is fencing. Typically, these athletes come to Pentathlon as swimmers or runners. Few come to the sport as fencers.  That is actually how I started fencing – as a Pentathlete (I was a runner). Typically, when we went to the club, there were plenty of older boys and young men for the girls (as well as Tracy and I) to fence.  These guys were great swimmers and runners but for the most part, were fairly clueless about fencing. Although they didn’t know much about fencing, they were fast and strong and this is exactly what Kelley & Courtney needed.

We were very careful about suggesting an overall strategy for them to use against the boys.  That is, they were not supposed to rely on retreating back to their 2-meter line and countering. This is a typical strategy most girls will take against boys. While the girls will build up their knowledge and technique about countering and it might help them beat other boys, it most definitely would not help them beat other girls. Why? Because the girls will retreat back to their 2 meter line and jump forward with a counter at any offensive action! Typically, girls become pretty good at this strategy but it doesn’t help them beat other girls! Ultimately, what you will have is two girls being forced to fence games they hadn’t practiced much because their natural tendency is to retreat and counter.

So, Kelley & Courtney learned to beat the stronger, faster, and older boys by attacking or strategically countering or parry-reposting in the middle of the strip. As I mentioned in last week’s post, our thought was that if they could beat the boys with this strategy, the other girls wouldn’t stand a chance!  The strategy was successful!!

Bob, Tracy, Courtney (13) & Kelley (16)

Since there weren’t too many girls fencing at the club, what Kelley and Courtney needed most was to fence other accomplished girls!  That simply wasn’t going to happen in San Antonio or too many other places in the US during that time. We always focused on having them fence in their age group. While they might fence in an older age group also, it was never at the expense of competing in their own age group. At the time, some parents would regularly register their kids to fence in older age groups and not bother with the correct age group events.  We felt that was the wrong strategy. In fact, what we wanted Kelley & Courtney to do is to get used to winning, get used to the stress, the feeling, and the celebration. Often, that is not so easy if you’re fencing in an older age group.  It is an extremely important factor for developing a ‘winning’ skill set and building confidence!

At 14 years old, Kelley won the Women’s senior epee National Championships (she also won the Youth 14 event)! This was in 2002 and she became the youngest athlete to win the national title. It was time to move on to the international circuit for cadets (Under-17), juniors (Under-20), and seniors. Courtney was still too young to compete in FIE-sanctioned tournaments (the rules require fencers to be 13).

Kelley and I traveled to Europe to test the waters while Courtney stayed home with Tracy.  Since we decided what Kelley needed most at the time was more bouting with girls, we traveled to the world cups and would stay and train at local clubs between the events. Tracy would rent us apartments (this was before AirBnB), buy plane and train tickets. We called her command central! At the time, there was usually a couple weeks between the events and with 3 age groups to choose from, it wasn’t hard to find events to compete in. We would often be gone from home for a month to 6 weeks – compete in 3 tournaments and train at 3 or 4 local epee clubs. Bouting, bouting, bouting.  This was definitely the most intensive training that Kelley had done at this point. It developed her skills and confidence and we got to see her competitors!  In order to get Courtney in on the game, Tracy and I rented an RV in Munich in May and we traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, and Germany for 6 weeks with world cups for Kelley and a couple youth events for Courtney. And now, Courtney was getting the bouting exposure at the local clubs, too! This trip opened everyone’s eyes, gave us insight into international fencing, and what the rest of the world was doing.  This trip launched the Hurleygurrl’s international success!

Stay Tuned for next week’s post!