Lee Kiefer and Gerek Meinhardt on New Year's Eve after getting engaged
Three-time Olympian Gerek Meinhardt is terrified of heights.
And for that exact reason, he chose to propose to girlfriend and two-time Olympian Lee Kiefer hundreds of feet in the air, facing his fear for her.
“I thought it’d be meaningful because Lee makes me a tougher and better person,” Gerek said. “I just faced the fact that I was going to have to be cool and calm and that it would go well.”
It was New Year’s Eve. With a free day in Singapore after working a fencing camp, Gerek and Lee went sightseeing before enjoying a unique dinner in a gondola traveling between Mount Faber and Sentosa Island.
Before the dessert course, Gerek got down on one knee and asked Lee to marry him. She said yes, giving the couple a perfect ending to 2017 and an exciting start to the new year.
“I was so excited because obviously Gerek is my best friend and I just felt so lucky,” Lee said.
Bettering each other. Private. Traveling the world. In many ways, the engagement perfectly described Gerek and Lee as a couple.
“It was very fitting because when we started dating, that’s how we had our dates – when we were at tournaments seeing each other once every month or two, getting to see new places together.”
As elite level foil fencers, Gerek and Lee’s paths had merged together through the sport they love. The more time they spent at tournaments together, Lee noticed the things they had in common, such as an interest in reading fantasy. She also began to see the gentleman Gerek is, always doing the little things to make those around him happy.
“When I started to love him, it was because he was so funny and then as I got closer to him, I realized how thoughtful he was always being,” Lee said. “Gerek always loves to surprise me. He’ll change his flights or organize his flights so we can meet during layovers while we’re going to tournaments or he’ll use his miles that he’s acquired from the endless travel to come visit me, so that’s been really fun over time … we’re just best friends. It’s just easy together, in a good way.”
Over the years, the couple together known as “GLee” has become inseparable and the two have developed incredible trust in each other both on and off the strip. For Gerek, it’s Lee’s ability to balance her intense fencing career and her personal life that is one of the things he loves about her most.
“Lee is obviously incredibly driven and accomplished, but she’s never complacent or content. She’s always striving to do more or be more. She’s really passionate in caring for her friends, her family and in pursuing the many goals she has at one time,” Gerek said. “But despite that intense drive that one needs to accomplish as much as she has, she’s so fun and we can step back from the often hectic times in our lives to be goofy and enjoy how fortunate we are.”
From a career standpoint, the fencing power couple’s careers look strikingly similar with both experiencing early career success, earning a No. 1 world ranking and rewriting the USA Fencing history books.
A bronze medalist in the team event at the Olympic Games in Rio, Gerek became the first U.S. men’s fencer ever to qualify for the Cadet, Junior and Senior World Championships Teams all in the same year in 2007. The nine-time World Team member then made even bigger history in 2010 and 2015 as the first U.S. men’s fencer to win a Senior World Championship medal and the first to claim two individual career podium finishes, taking bronze in both years. In 2013, Gerek added a first to his resume in the team event when the U.S. Men’s Foil Team earned its first medal ever at the Senior Worlds with a silver.
In 2011, Lee became the only U.S. foilist in the world to earn individual podium finishes at the Cadet, Junior and Senior World Championships in the same year with her medal at Senior Worlds marking just the second podium finish in USA Fencing history. An eight-time Senior World Team member, the first-year medical student at the University of Kentucky had an outstanding 2017, becoming only the third fencer to win four NCAA titles and the only fencer in any weapon to win eight consecutive Pan American Championships. At Worlds, she led Team USA to a silver medal, the team’s best result in the history of the event.
“We definitely have a lifetime of very unique experiences that we’ve built together,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine doing that with anyone else or having those and then ever being with someone else.”
With both devoting their lives to fencing and knowing what it takes to reach and stay at the top of the sport, there is a mutual understanding only another fencer could understand. They have been each other’s training partner the last few years, always helping each other be better and knowing the countless hours they’ve spent on the strip to be the best.
“There are a lot of ups and downs in fencing, and it's easy to find people that can share and take joy in your accomplishments. After good results, we’re so excited to get home and celebrate together since we both know how hard we work and how much we care about our fencing,” Gerek said. “But it’s having each other during the dips, the disappointments or the bad results when we really feel grateful to have each other. We are able to return home to someone who understands the disappointment but is also ready to help you move past it and continue to improve and push you.”
In fact, one of Gerek’s favorite memories with Lee came in a tough moment in early 2015, shortly before the qualification period for Rio began. According to Gerek, he lost a bout because he couldn’t find his intensity and remembers how critical Lee was in helping change his mindset.
“I was of course disappointed in the loss, but Lee came to me after the bout and was visibly upset in tears. She wanted me to do well so badly and she told me she didn’t want me to miss qualifying for Rio as a result of not caring or fighting hard enough,” Gerek said. “That moment really flipped a switch for me and motivated me not only throughout the qualification period but still does to this day. So our many happier, unforgettable memories such as walking in the Rio Opening Ceremony together and celebrating the team’s Olympic bronze medal likely wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that earlier moment with Lee.”
While Gerek and Lee are simply enjoying being engaged right now and will wait to start planning their wedding until after Lee’s older sister gets married in May, Lee and Gerek do have one date and location specifically in mind when it comes to their fencing careers: July 24, 2020 in Tokyo – the start of what would be their third Olympic Games together.
The Tokyo Olympic Games may be over two years away, but Gerek and Lee both hope to be representing the United States once more and are continuing to push and support each other like they always have to get there.
“To be honest, I think it’s our relationship that has allowed us to keep fencing,” Lee said. “It’s been so fun doing it together. That’s been a whole other journey of falling in love and having the rest of your life morphed out because of [fencing], so it’s been great.”
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