Nov. 20, 2013
Sean Tenaglia, Student Writer -
Not many student-athletes can call themselves Olympians before they ever set foot on a college campus.
Having competed internationally with the world’s elite, sophomore fencer Lee Kiefer has shined on every stage. She is currently ranked as the top women’s foilist in the Junior division and the No. 2 foilist in the Senior division in the country, according to USA Fencing.
At just the age of 18, Kiefer traveled across the Atlantic to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She contributed to the United States women’s team’s sixth-place finish in the Team Foil competition, and placed fifth overall in the Women’s Individual Foil competition.
Kiefer entered the Olympics hoping to use the opportunity to develop her skills against the world’s best foilists, and actually ended up exceeding her own expectations.
“I was obviously nervous like everyone else when you first get out there,” Kiefer says. “But I think unlike a lot of people, I didn’t give myself too high of expectations because I was so young.
“I was more hoping to use the experience as practice, and maybe that was a way of not stressing myself out to perform better.”
Kiefer also described her Olympic experience as one of the happiest moments of her life.
“In London, I had about 20 family members and friends supporting me,” she says. “Afterwards, when I was able to see all of them, I was just so happy to have shared the experience with them.”
For Kiefer, fencing has truly been a family affair. Her father, Steven, was a team captain for the men’s fencing team at Duke University.
From a young age, Lee and her siblings, Alex and Axel, had no choice but to participate in the sport. While she admits it was difficult at first, Kiefer recognizes how valuable it was to have their father pushing her and her siblings every day.
“At first it was really hard because we felt that he expected a lot from us, even when we weren’t at practice,” the Versailles, Ky., native says. “Eventually, it really helped us with our basic fencing, and then we were able to improve really fast at a young age.”
Alex Kiefer, who is two years older than her sister Lee, is a senior at Harvard where she is a foilist and co-captain of the women’s fencing team. Alex has also competed internationally, and Lee believes that training together as they have grown up has really allowed them to develop and learn from one another.
“I started fencing at the same time as my older sister and we were both very competitive and used to cry a lot when we fenced each other,” Kiefer says with a laugh. “It was only natural!
“Eventually we became each other’s best training partners and best friends. We’re so close, and I miss her a lot.”
Not to be overshadowed by his sisters, Axel, who is two years younger than Lee, is currently the No. 5-ranked men’s foilist in the country in the Junior division and the No. 28 foilist in the Senior division, according to USA Fencing. Even when Lee finally has some free time from her busy competition schedule, she enjoys practicing with Axel to continue honing their skills.
“Right now my brother is at home so we have trained together a little during holiday breaks,” Kiefer said. “It’s nice catching up when we see each other at national tournaments, and we’re still pretty close.”
Despite her great international success and strong family background in the sport, Kiefer admits that it took her a good deal of time to realize that she was committed to fencing.
“I think it actually took more time than I expected,” she says. “I was probably about 12 years old when I realized I loved the sport.
“Everyone works so hard at it, and I guess it’s that moment when I realized all my hard work was paying off and I just felt myself getting stronger and could see it reflected in my results when I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Kiefer has learned a lot about herself and experienced a different form of competition during her time at Notre Dame.
“It’s a lot different when you fence internationally because you aren’t as much of a team with the other competitors,” she explains. “You still want your friends to do well, but here at Notre Dame we all cheer for each other, and we don’t really care who wins when it comes down to all of us being among the top four scorers.
“I think it allows for really healthy and supportive relationships.”
Kiefer dominated throughout her freshman year en route to an NCAA Championship in the Individual Foil category this past March. Her sister Alex finished sixth in the same competition. She also led the Irish women’s fencing team to a second-place finish in the team competition, and earned All-American honors for her performance.
Yet, Kiefer is not satisfied with the successes of her past. For her, there is still much to be accomplished.
“This year I need to start going to a lot of international tournaments to get my ranking up again, so I want to focus on that a lot,” she says. “Also, I’m hoping for our team to do well in NCAAs. Last year, we were really close and I think we can win it this year.”
In the long term, her goal is to return to the Olympic stage to represent her country in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Daughter. Sister. Student. Foilist. All-American. NCAA Champion. All of these titles describe who Lee Kiefer is.
Do not be surprised to see the words “Olympic Medalist” added to this list in the near future.