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

Tracy, Robert, Kelley & Courtney in Doha

So far, I have discussed the importance of athleticism, speed, and conditioning at an early age, the need to compete against similar age-group athletes which give young fencers a chance to win and all that this entails, and about the importance of lots of bouting in the environment in which you want to be successful. For Kelley & Courtney, this was Europe. What we found in Europe were fencers who competed at a much longer distance than fencers in the US. This is probably because they were more athletic than American youngsters and because they have a much richer history in the sport and evolved a bit faster. At first, this created a problem as the girls learned to fence at the longer distance but had trouble translating that into winning American bouts. Simply put, the Americans did not react the same as the Europeans. It quickly became obvious, there were two different sports that we needed to figure out – an American version and a European version.  To win at NACs required a shorter, American distance while winning at world cups, required a longer, European distance.

As we struggled to adapt to the two distances, I continued to take the girls to Europe for periods of 3-6 weeks at a time.  By this time, Courtney was old enough to compete in the cadet events, Kelley narrowly missed making the Athens 2004 Olympics, and college (for Kelley) loomed on the horizon.  As I spent weeks at a time in Europe with the girls, we couldn’t have done it without the support of their high school! They were willing to be quite flexible with absences (“school sponsored events”). Of course, this meant that Tracy and I were not only their coaches but also their tutors.  Although it would have probably been easier to home-school them, we kept them in public schools simply because we felt they needed someone else telling them what to do in at least one aspect of their life!  Fortunately, with my science and math background and Tracy’s skill at the humanities, we were able to help them keep-up with assignments. Btw, I had retired before all this started so I had the time and availability to travel with them.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most important factors in success in a sport like fencing.  That is… you must be able to afford it. Fencing is not cheap – especially when you spend 4-5 months a year traveling to Europe and around the world. There was some reimbursement from USA Fencing but that only covered portions of the girls’ travel (not mine) and at that time, was based purely on results.  Even if they won a cadet event or junior world cup, all of our expenses would not be covered. If they only made the top 16 (or worse), it hardly paid for their meals. So, our commitment to fencing also required a significant financial investment.

Before heading off to the University of Notre Dame, Kelley won the Cadet World Championships. During her sophomore year, she won the Junior World Championships and earned a berth on the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing. Not to be out done, Courtney won the Cadet World Championships and in her freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, won 4 straight Junior World cup events. Once they went off to college, my daily coaching responsibilities faded although I still traveled with them to world cup events.  It seemed at this point in time, we focused a great deal of attention on how to fence team events. Team events require a much different strategy and mindset and presented a whole different set of challenges to conquer (more about this at a later time).

Everything was humming along nicely with NCAA Championship titles; then came the

Courtney after winning the final touch in the Bronze medal bout against the Russians

2012 London Olympics qualifying season. Courtney took off her junior year from ND and returned home to train. Courtney started the season off with a couple of top finishes while Kelley, on the other hand, struggled terribly. It seemed like for every event, Kelley became more nervous, frustrated, and simply unable to muster-up any positive results.  I felt so helpless!  Psychology is complicated. The more advice I gave her, the worse she did.  I had no answers. Somehow, at the last qualifying event (the National Championships), Kelley managed to pull herself out of the pit and finish strong enough to qualify for the 4th spot on the team.  Courtney played a big role in this success as she knocked off the only other athlete who had a chance to beat Kelley out for the team.  It certainly helped to have a sister!

Luck shined on the Hurleygurrls; the team won a Bronze medal in the team event at the 2012 London Olympics! This result represented a culmination of 15 years of hard work, some luck, a financial investment, and a focused attention to detail.

After winning a medal in London, we worked on getting our finances under control, and in hindsight, did not focus enough on the details to ensure a repeat performance in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. In short, we took too many things for granted. While the girls qualified (which in hindsight was our singular goal) and competed (briefly), we paid more attention to qualifying than actually winning. After Kelley’s struggle to qualify for London, we were simply relieved when both girls started the qualifying season off with strong results. After disappointing results in Rio, we decided that if they wanted to go forward to 2020 Tokyo Olympics, things had to change!

More about this later next year. Kelley already talked about it in a blog post earlier this year and I will turn it over to the girls to finish this story as we move toward that goal.