Fencers Kelley and Courtney Hurley take one more stab at 2020.
Hurleys are in Baltimore for this weekend’s national championships
For months, the plan seemed simple enough: Fencer Kelley Hurley would go to the 2016 Olympics, she would win a medal, and so would her younger sister, Courtney. She then would return home, lay down her sword and embark on a new life as a medical school student.
But like her sister, Kelley lost in her first epee bout of the Rio Games. Five days later, they lost out in the team competition, too. The Hurley sisters came home empty-handed, but Kelley felt something inside still burning.
Eight months later, Kelley is not in medical school. She’s still training, her sights set firmly on a fourth Summer Olympics. The road there begins in earnest this weekend. Both Kelley and Courtney will be competing at the national championships, which run Friday through Monday in Baltimore.
Last summer as they were processing the disappointment from the Rio competition, the sisters hung around the city and soaked in the Olympic atmosphere. Kelley slowly started to realize it wasn’t yet time to walk away from the sport.
“I just began to really think that I’m not really ready to quit yet,” said Hurley, who is trying for her fifth national epee title this weekend. “I did want to take a break, but I felt there was so much more out there.”
The sisters attended Closing Ceremonies in Rio and saw the spectacle put on by the 2020 Tokyo organizers. The pull was too strong. “It really just made me think: I want to make it four. I want to see what Tokyo has,” Kelley said.
The decision is one most Olympians face when the NBC cameras go dark and the pageantry ends. For many, continuing in their sport means delaying other plans. In chasing gold, Olympic athletes often postpone working toward careers or building families or pursuing more lucrative endeavors. Kelley was locked into medical school after the Rio Games. Now that’s on hold. “Maybe med school isn’t the ultimate goal,” she says now.
Kelley is wrapping up her master’s degree in public health this summer, and Courtney, 26, is pursuing her master’s in business administration. For both, taking aim at the Tokyo Games is a full-time pursuit. The sisters will spend six hours a day in training and even more time studying film or in the gym.
“For something like fencing, you have to focus 100 percent all the time,” Courtney said.
The two San Antonio natives have settled into nearby Houston, where they bought a house together not far from their training facility. They intend to spend more time dissecting video — of themselves and opponents — than ever before.
“I think we’re going to focus on all aspects of training, not just fencing and footwork,” Courtney said. “But swimming, weights, mental health, everything.”
Courtney enters this weekend’s competition ranked second in the country and Kelley third. They will be joined in Baltimore by eight other Olympians, including Washington’s Kat Holmes and New Jersey’s Ibtihaj Muhammad, and scores of other Olympic hopefuls.
Kelley, who just turned 29, is well aware that in women’s epee especially, competitors tend to peak in their 30s, and she feels like she’s only getting better, smarter and more efficient on the strip and off. She was just 20 years old when she competed at the 2008 Olympics, the lone American woman to qualify in epee. She competed at the London Games four years later as a replacement and helped the United States win bronze in the team event, competing alongside her sister.
“I feel like now we have a much better idea of the proper way to train,” Kelley said. “That’s what we really want to try for Tokyo — a new and improved training regimen.”
Sticking with the sport means that the sisters will continue to be close to each other. They had trained side-by-side since they were small, coached by their father, Bob Hurley, and both attended Notre Dame. Four more years on the strip also means Kelley will have a chance to walk away from the sport on a much higher note.
“I’ve seen magic; I’ve seen it happen,” Kelley says. “I’ve seen Courtney and I and our team pull off some amazing victories. I really feel a medal is obtainable.”
Kelley Hurley, left, and sister Courtney Hurley won the bronze medal in the team event at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.