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Road to Tokyo: 21 Questions with Courtney Hurley

07/06/2021, 3:30pm CDT
By Kristen Henneman

2018 World Championship bronze medalist Courtney Hurley will compete at her third Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

As the countdown continues to the 2021 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, USA Fencing is sitting down with members of Team USA to share the stories behind their Road to Tokyo.

One of Team USA’s most decorated epee fencers, Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame) is no stranger to making history. The daughter of two fencers, Hurley was the anchor for the 2012 Olympic Women’s Epee Team that won bronze – the first Olympic medal for Team USA in women’s epee – standing on the podium with her older sister Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas / New York Athletic Club / Notre Dame). Qualifying for her third Olympic Games, Hurley enters Tokyo as the 2018 Senior World Championship bronze medalist, in which she became the first U.S. fencer to win a World medal in individual epee. At that same Worlds, Hurley helped Team USA win gold in the team event, marking the first Senior World gold medal for a women’s epee team.

In this week’s Road to Tokyo series, Hurley discusses sharing the 2012 podium finish with her family, switching away from the anchor position in the team event, her time living in Paris and traveling the world with her two dogs.

1. When you went back to competition in Kazan after the COVID-19 pandemic, what was it like to hear “Ready … Fence!” once again?

It felt so surreal. It didn’t feel like reality. You’re so used to doing competitions. You do a million a year, and so it was such a different life not doing it for so long and then coming back straight to it with basically no time to process, they were like, ‘Oh, World Cup is next month.’ It didn’t register really in time. I think that’s why we didn’t perform as well as we’d hoped. We weren’t mentally prepared.

2. Talk to me about this women’s epee team going to Tokyo and what you think you can do there?

Before COVID, we were super confident, and I’m still super confident, but COVID threw in some uncertainties … Who knows what could happen. I’m still very confident. Our team is so close and it’s the first time probably ever that we’ve had such a close team and we all get along really well and we work really well together in this kind of environment. And switching it up, because I was always the last position, the anchor, and switching it up the last couple years to Kat Homes being the anchor, it’s definitely changed the whole dynamic and just working really well all together, definitely it’s much more enjoyable.

3. Team has been such a focus for the women’s epee squad. How has that helped everyone individually, as well with the team results?

I think trying to lift up the team and we also focus on bringing others – not only the four, more than the top four included, and bringing them to tournaments and to train with. I think it lifts up the level of fencing, even individually, to bring up the whole team. We’re much more supportive now I think of everybody. It’s more fun, which is a big factor.

4. I want to ask you about some of the big moments in your career, starting with the 2012 Olympic Games. What was going through your head as the anchor in the bronze medal match?

It’s definitely a high pressure situation, the highest for sure. In London, it was a huge accomplishment and a history-making bout, and still watching it to this day, that last match, it’s such an amazing feeling to win a medal for my sister and I. We both won a medal together in team, but the flipside is that it’s such a tough situation and in Rio I was basically in the same situation and I lost. It’s a really high risk [position] and it doesn’t always pay off and so it can be one of the most amazing experiences feeling like you won it for the team and then one of the lowest experiences feeling like you lost it for the entire team. So after the Rio Olympics, it hit me really, really hard to lose it and lose the medal opportunity for us, so a year or two after that, I couldn’t do it anymore. Too many losses can just mess you up mentally, but when it’s high, like in London, it’s just the best feeling ever.

5. Your parents were in the stands in 2012. What did that mean to share that not only with Kelley, but with them?

Definitely one of the most enjoyable moments of my life and I’m sure all of our lives. Just to have our parents in the stands and winning that with Kelley – we’ve watched that last match so many times on YouTube and I know the exact moment I can hear my dad screaming at me, ‘Gotta take the blade.’ [Laughs]. … I can hear him say that from the stands all the way in the blackness. It’s all black up there, so you can’t really even see anybody, but to work so hard for all those years we were traveling together and for it to pay off like that, it was perfect. You can’t ask for anything more.

6. Your parents fenced as well. What was it like growing up around fencing?

It was a normal thing. Nobody else around us was having the same experience. We would literally leave for days to tournaments and we’d get back and people would be like, ‘Where did you go?’ ‘You know, just to Europe for a sec.’ [Laughs]. One experience, we went to Europe, and this was when we were younger. I wasn’t even competing at the senior level yet, but Kelley was. We rented an RV in Europe, and drove all across to different competitions and training and we would park it on the street right outside the fencing club … crazy experiences like that that not many people experienced. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

7. What about Kelley? What’s it like having her to go through all this with?

I don’t think either of us would’ve been able to continue this far without one another. It’s a lonely individual sport, it can be. Now that we’re focusing on team and bringing everyone in together, it’s a lot more team camaraderie, but before that, it was everyone for themselves, so it was quite a tough sport. Essentially you’re fighting against everybody to get the spot on the team … so I don’t think we could’ve done it without each other’s support, 100% in each other’s corner. Not many people have that kind of loyalty and support, so I think that’s a big reason we are successful as we are.

8. How do you handle fencing the same weapon and competing against each other?

Just professionally. A big thing is that we don’t train with each other. We don’t fence each other. We stay away from that … but then in competition, it’s inevitable and we get it over with as quickly as possible and move on.

9. Going back to another big moment in 2018 when you won individual bronze at Worlds, what do you remember most from that day?

I just remember the feeling of everything working so well and I just felt so confident. It all came together at the right moment. I just love fencing well and whenever you fence well and you win, it’s amazing. That’s not always the case. You can fence amazingly and still lose, so I love that it all came together.

10. What do you love most about the sport?

It used to be winning, for sure. But now, I just appreciate when I fence well. I love that feeling and it makes me happy. Whenever I lose in that situation, I’m not as upset, because usually losing I’m very, very upset. I hate losing. But whenever I fence very well and lose, it’s not as heartbreaking.

11. And then you won team gold in 2018, your second medal of that Worlds. After having such a focus on the team, what was that moment like?

I’m so glad we stuck it out because it’s so many years we’ve been doing this and we were contemplating, when are we going to retire? We’ve basically done it all, but then when we won that, I was like, ‘Okay, now we’ve done it all.’ [Laughs] … Me not fencing the anchor bout anymore, it was such a load off my shoulders and being put in a different position on the team where I was still able to do really well, because I was worried that was my position was the anchor and if I didn’t do that position, that I wouldn’t be able to contribute. And then I was able to rely on my teammates more. I still do, but I put all the pressure on myself, and seeing Kat doing so well in that position, it makes me very happy – us all fencing really well, especially Kat on that day and it all coming together.

12. You’re a two-time NCAA Champion as an individual and won a team championship. Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Notre Dame?

I really enjoyed the whole team camaraderie. It’s such a different experience …  NCAAs was actually the second most stressful tournament after the Olympics. It’s such an unusual format and the whole school is relying on you, so it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a different kind of pressure.

13. You lived in Paris for a year recently. What was that like?

It was awesome. Such a different way of life in Paris than it is in Houston. I’m not particularly a city person, so it was definitely an interesting experience. We brought our dogs and we all lived in one house that was pretty tiny. It was tall, but every floor was tiny, so we had our mom staying there with us and then Kelley and her boyfriend and me and then four dogs, it was a packed house for sure.

14. You mentioned the way of life. How was it different?

Any city like that, things are moving fast constantly. If you don’t speak the language, it’s really hard … a lot of anxiety with that, but the training was awesome. We trained with Daniel Levavasseur and it was kind of like an office job. We would train from like eight to one. That was a different experience having such a set, rigid schedule. You took days off if you were really, really sick, but that was about it. And then Saturdays, Sundays off. So it was a different way of training for sure.

15. What’s your favorite vacation destination?

Right before I left France, I decided to rent a van in Europe and do almost a three week vacation with just me and the two dogs and I drove to Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia and actually, Slovenia was one of my favorite places. On the border of Slovenia and Italy, I don’t even remember the name of the town. I literally just looked it up the day of and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go there.’ It was just in the mountains and there was lakes and the water was crystal clear. No one’s in Slovenia. I had just come from Croatia, which in August, it’s just packed of people and I just couldn’t take it anymore. That was definitely an amazing experience. I loved that so much.

16. How did you decide to just take a van by yourself and travel Europe?

I’ve been wanting to do the van life for forever and I just thought since I’m over here with my dogs, it would be such a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. I knew it would be. The funniest thing was to rent a van in Europe, they’re almost all stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive stick shifts. So I left in August, but I learned in the summer because my mom knows how to drive it and so she taught me. I rented a car two or three times and I learned how to drive stick shift [laughs], and then I just took this van after only driving two or three times. I just took it and left for the mountains, driving stick shift for the third time. It was definitely a crazy experience [Laughs].

17. You did a road trip during COVID-19 in the U.S. too, right?

Yeah. That [Europe trip] was also a tester to see if it was something I really liked. And I did, so I knew for sure I wanted to do it. My family had this van that we traveled with actually when we were little to competitions … It had just been sitting in the driveway for years and years. And I decided I would take it and I redid the inside and I took that and traveled and I started in October of 2020 … I went to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and then I went back South and then I went to Arizona and New Mexico and then home.

18. And you bought property in New Mexico for a tiny house?

Yeah, my family bought property in New Mexico. I pushed for it. I really wanted the property. It’s a really good investment. I don’t have a tiny home yet on it. There’s nothing on the land right now, but I’m hoping after this Olympics to go there and put in all the essentials, like electricity and a well and then hopefully put a tiny home on there. At least one, if not more.

19. As you’ve mentioned, I know your dogs are a big part of your life. Talk to me about them and doing all this traveling with them?

They’re living the life. [Laughs]. I just love taking them to new experiences and seeing them thrive. Seeing them out in the wilderness, just being dogs, I just love that so much. I love that I’ve taken them everywhere, so they’re comfortable in almost every situation. I love seeing them happy and being dogs and being able to be with me anywhere that I go.

20. What are their personalities like?

I think a funny explanation is Beorn, the black one, he’s a dog. He’s happy-go-lucky to do anything. But he’s a dog. He loves running and he loves chasing animals. He loves kids and playing with kids. But Kikyo, the red one, she wants to be human so badly. She would kill to be a human and she’s trying so hard to understand what you’re actually saying and she’s very serious and doesn’t mess around. She has a job, which is her soccer ball. That’s her job.

21. What do you want to do once your done fencing?

I want to retire. [Laughs]. So actually, my mom and I are starting an app … it’s an events-based app. I don’t like to say it, but to give a good picture, it’s like Meetup … I’m hoping ours is a mixture of events and then has a social media aspect to it. There’s not really that many events apps out there. Facebook is really your big one. Actually, we started it because we were in Paris and we were trying to find things to do in Paris and Facebook was really the only way you could find events. So that’s something that started the whole process.

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