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16 for 16: Kat Holmes - Women's Epee

08/04/2016, 1:45pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

As Team USA prepares for the Rio Olympic Games USA Fencing is sitting down with members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams to ask each 16 questions about their Road to Rio.

In this edition, Kat Holmes talks with USA Fencing about qualifying for her first Olympic Games, working in a neuroscience lab and why she believed bananas would help her qualify for Rio ... 

Q1: You qualified for the Olympics in March. Has it officially sunk in that you’ll be competing in Rio?
Yeah, the first couple weeks were pretty surreal once I qualified. And then, back-to-back we had the Olympic announcement in Richmond, and then I went to the 100 Days Out Event in New York and those two events really helped me feel like, ‘Yeah I am an Olympian. I’m going to the Olympics. This isn’t just some dream that it happened and I’m going to wake up. No, it’s real.’ And now, for the past couple months, my focus has been solely on training for the Games and now we’re getting to that point where it’s fine-tuning everything and I’m definitely ready to go.

Q2: What are you looking forward to most in the Olympic Village?
I just remember from Youth Olympics and the World University Games just meeting so many other people from so many other sports and so many other countries, and making new friends and just hanging out. Obviously I’m looking forward to the fencing and competing, but really meeting new people and making friends from all around the world in different sports and learning about their lives.

Q3: Do you have any sports on your once-fencing-is-done bucket list in Rio?
Yeah. I want to see handball, I want to see badminton, I want to see volleyball, and then I want to see pentathlon because I have a bunch of pentathlon friends. [My coach] Zoltan used to coach handball back in Hungary. So, it’s really fun to watch. He’s shown me some games and stuff. When they’re on Hungarian TV, he will stream it. It’s really fun.

Q4: When you’re on the road all the time, what do you miss most when you travel?
I miss my French press … and my cat. Yeah, I miss Tiger the most and the French press next.

Q5: What's your favorite pre-competition meal?
Two pieces of bread with some almond butter and a banana chopped up.

Q5A: Even though you don’t like bananas?
So this is kind of a weird story because I’m a weird person. So halfway through the season, trying to qualify for the Olympics, I was like 'Athletes eat bananas. I’m an athlete, ergo I should eat bananas.' So I forced myself to eat a banana every day, and now I kind of like them. It took like two months. I literally was like gagging at first, but I was like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ And now I eat bananas all the time.

Q6: Where’s the one place you would want to go back to for a vacation?
Cuba. I want to go to Cuba. I really wish I got to spend more time there and really explore it. Havana struck me as like 1950s United States mixed with what I imagine the Soviet Moscow to be mixed with Disneyland. It’s just the weirdest, coolest, funnest place.

Q7: How did you decide you wanted to become a fencer?
I played a bunch of other sports like basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, blah, blah, blah. But I was also a big nerd and I loved reading books about medieval times, and I wanted to sword fight. So I was like, ‘Hey Mom, Dad I want to sword fight.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh God, okay.’ So they googled fencing in the area and they found two clubs, so I just went to the one that was closer to our house. I just loved it. I was actually pretty terrible at first, but I just liked it better than everything else. So I stuck with it and because I liked it, I just did it more and more and more. Turns out, practicing makes you better. I just loved it from the beginning.

Q8: You took the past two years off from Princeton, but you stayed and trained there. Is that weird to be in the college town in that environment but not actually have go to class?
I thought it would be really weird, but I also have a part-time job with my thesis advisor’s lab, which is where I had all my classes anyway in the neuroscience department, so I was kind of on campus even though I wasn’t in class. I was working right where I had all my classes and then I’d go to practice afterwards, so it really wasn’t as weird as I thought it would be. It just kind of felt like I was a different type of student, more of like a grad student.

Q9: What is your job in the lab?
I’m a research assistant. My lab does computational modeling of human decision making, so specifically, I look at and model risk and how humans manage risky situations and what goes on in the brain.

Q10: Do you apply any of that to your fencing?
Fencing is like super, super specific on one end of the spectrum and we’re kind of specific on the other, more basic end of the spectrum, but my thesis is actually going to look at fencing. In fencing, theoretically, if you want to break down actions into the simplest component you can, it’s is it aggressive or defensive, so you can calculate based on video, ‘Okay 60 percent of the time attacking gets you a point and 40 percent of the time defense does, just overall.’ You can calculate a Nash equilibrium from that, and you can manipulate different factors and see to what extent do fencers versus non-fencers adhere to a Nash equilibrium and explore riskiness within fencing. So that’s actually what my thesis is going to be on.

Q11: I know Princeton has had a long legacy of fencing Olympians. Have you gotten a lot of support from your teammates?
Oh yeah absolutely. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without them. They were always there when I didn’t do well. I’d come back and they were all like, ‘What can we do to help?’ When we were bouting, they were like, ‘How can we make practices help you?’ even though they were also practicing for NCAAs. They would come down for extra practices with me. They were just so supportive. They were really just always there for me no matter what I needed.

Q12: After you’re done fencing, what is it that you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be an orthopedic surgeon. I’d like to work with athletes. I’ve never gone under the knife personally, but I’ve been to many an orthopedist. I’ve had a lot of injuries myself and I really want to in turn then work with athletes and help them recover as quickly as possible.

Q13: There’s a rumor that you’re a really good singer. What’s your favorite karaoke song?
Well it depends on what group I’m with. My go-to that we do with all the Princeton fencers is ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ from Mulan. That is a solid choice, although anything Taylor Swift I’m totally on board.

Q14: What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given to you?
I’m going to go with two here. One is Zoltan’s go-to. So Princeton is sponsored by Nike, so he’s always like, ‘Just do it.’ Because he’s Zoltan, he’s funny. He’s like, ‘Or you could go Adidas. ‘Impossible is nothing.’ So those two in tandem. But then, my mom was always like, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it all the way. Fully commit yourself. And if you’re going to go for the Olympics, go for the Olympics. If you’re going to be a doctor, be a doctor.’ If you’re going to do it, do it.

Q15: What’s your favorite part about fencing?
I really like how organic it is. You practice all these actions in a lesson and it looks perfect. For the majority of the time, fencing is never perfect. It’s not a perfect sport. Each touch is like a new creation. You follow a certain plan, but every touch is different in a certain way. It requires so much thinking and feeling simultaneously, kind of like an integration of all the senses.

Q16: What does it mean to you to be an Olympian?
There are so many facets. First of all, it’s been a dream for so long that it’s kind of like, ‘Yeah if you do work hard you can do it.’ And on a more personal side, it’s a fulfillment of what my mom always said. But then also representing the United States and to be a part of such an elite group of athletes and being an ambassador of sport for the United States is pretty damn cool. So few people get the opportunity to do this, to be an Olympian, to compete at the highest level and it’s just awesome to now be included in that group.

Tag(s): News  Kat Holmes