Lee Kiefer says the biggest misconception her friends and classmates have about her sport is there aren’t a whole lot of competitive fencers.
When the recent Paul Laurence Dunbar (Lexington, Ky.) graduate and elite fencer returns from tournaments, the first question she’s typically asked is, ‘Did you win?’
“There are so many good people that no one can win all the time,” Kiefer says. “People need to understand the difficulty level.”
That shouldn’t be a problem when Kiefer returns from her next tournament, a little thing called the Olympics, where she’ll compete against the world’s best.
In their defense, those close to Kiefer have gotten used to her winning. In 2011, she was the only fencer to win individual medals at the senior, youth and cadet world championships. Her bronze medal at senior worlds was only the second by a U.S. woman in event history.
Most of Kiefer’s fencing success has come while balancing life as a high school student. After an academically rigorous junior year, Kiefer estimated she missed 65 days of school as a senior. While traveling from one tournament to the next, Kiefer was trying to decide where she would go to college.
“You definitely have to manage your time,” says Kiefer, who is headed to Notre Dame on a fencing scholarship three days after she returns from London. “I was able to make my social life and my fencing life kind of the same thing.”
When she wasn’t at a tournament, Kiefer’s fencing life during high school consisted of four, 3-hour practices per week. She would often work out with her younger brother, Axel, focusing on sprints or squats.
“We don’t do too much lifting because it’s not good for fencers to build too much muscle mass,” Kiefer says.
In the months leading up to the Olympics, Kiefer had morning and evening practices. Training sessions included conditioning and footwork, one-on-one time with her coach and partner drills.
Looking ahead to London, where she will compete in the women’s individual foil on Saturday and the women’s team foil on Aug. 2, Kiefer isn’t putting any added pressure on herself. She has an outside chance to medal this year, but she's expected to have a better chance of reaching the podium in 2016.
“I won’t be too nervous; I just want to fence well,” she says. “It really just depends on how people are fencing that day, how you feel and who you match up against.”
And when she arrives at Notre Dame, she probably won’t have to answer the question, ‘Did you win?’