Washington, February 15, 2013 – When I began my fencing career at Brandeis University, there was one benchmark for fencing success that every fencer strove to match: Tim Morehouse.
“We live in Tim Morehouse’s shadow,” our captain used to say.
Morehouse cast a large shadow after a storied career at Brandeis, which featured three all-American titles—a feat no fencer has accomplished since. Morehouse’s success at Brandeis only grazed the surface of what has become one of the most storied fencing careers in American history. Morehouse would go on to win an Olympic Team Silver Medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, two individual national championship titles in 2010 and 2011, and a top eight finish in the 2012 London Olympics.
Between his successful careers as a sabrist, writer, motivational speaker, E! News correspondent, and his new “Fencing in the Schools initiative,” Morehouse is seemingly able to squeeze 48 hours into one day.
He recently released a must-read autobiography, titled American Fencer, and he is gearing up for a March 13 launch of his new Fencing in the Schools program. We sat down with Morehouse to discuss his unofficial role as American fencing’s goodwill ambassador, his array of fencing initiatives, and what the future holds for his career.
Damien Lehfeldt: I understand your “Fencing in the Schools” program is scheduled to kick off on March 13. Can you explain to the readers what the “Fencing in the Schools” program is and what inspired you to begin the initiative?
Tim Morehouse: The goal of “Fencing in the Schools” is to get kids all across the country fencing to both fight childhood obesity and to instill the Olympic ideals in a new generation of fencers. We’re trying to get one-million kids fencing by 2023. We’re in the process of training PE teachers to teach a basic fencing unit. As of now, we have 1600 kids in East and West Harlem, and the program is rapidly growing.
I wanted to start “Fencing in the Schools” because of the huge impact fencing had on my life. It helped me build confidence in myself, build my critical thinking skills, and was great exercise. I wanted to provide that same opportunity I had to learn the sport of fencing and to expose kids to fencing from all walks of life and backgrounds.
After Beijing where we won our Silver Medal, I went out and started speaking to kids about my journey and how no one expected me to make the Olympic team. I lost a lot in the beginning, but I wouldn’t let myself be deterred from my dream. Then, I made an Olympic team and got a medal. That message resonated well with my audience.
Kids and principals would come up to me after my speeches and say “I really want a fencing program in my school.” That’s sort of why I had the idea to get these programs. My two passions are fencing and education. This was the best way to bring them together.
DL: You taught President Obama how to fence on the White House lawn, you were featured in ESPN Magazine’s “bodies” issue, your recent wedding was highlighted in the New York Times, and you’re now a correspondent for E! News. I don’t think there’s been an American fencer that’s been able to launch Fencing into the mainstream like you. What advice can you give to other fencers to help continue pushing fencing into the spotlight?
TM: I’m pretty good at PR and marketing because I have to be. The goals that I want to achieve involve getting our sport out to other people. If we want to promote fencing, we have to communicate with the public better and to get out and talk to people.
My advice is this: if you want to promote fencing, a good first step is to get to know the local newspaper and to build a relationship with them. Make yourself as welcoming as you can to other people to try the sport. We did a clinic a week and a half ago down at Virginia Tech and we let the local media know that we were coming to get excitement going in the local area, and managed to get good publicity from the local news.
DL: Between training full time and your various initiatives, it seems you are a master of time management. What’s your secret for juggling work career and fencing career?
I don’t know that I have a secret! I make a lot of sacrifices to accomplish the things I want to get done. When I was training full time and working, I missed a lot of my friend’s weddings; but, I understood that to achieve something big like making an Olympic team, there had to be sacrifices somewhere.
When you have ambitious goals, there is always a little “give and take.” I try to stay organized, write down my goals, and figure out how to get the best “bang for my buck” and focus on the things that give me my biggest return for my efforts. I have a lot of people that support me and help me out. I’m grateful to all the people that have contributed to my efforts as an athlete, and I’m blessed to have so many people supporting my philanthropy as well. This is definitely not a one man show.
DL: Sabre is the fastest of the three weapons, so I imagine you have a unique training regimen that also focuses on weights. In as much detail as possible, can you walk us through what a typical day of training looks like for Tim Morehouse?
TM: When I’m training full time, I do different kinds of footwork, focusing on technique, keeping distance, and feeling the different rhythms of the bout. I focus on my footwork going backwards, footwork going forwards, and being able to change directions quickly, which is an important component of sabre.
I take a 30 minute with my coach (Yury Gelman), then transition to bouting where I work both five and fifteen touch bouts. I use drills to isolate certain aspects of my fencing that need improvement. I do weight training 2-3 times a week, which involves a lot of Olympic lifts, sprinting, and plyometric training. I spend a lot of time stretching both before and after every practice. There’s a lot of video work that goes into my training too, both to assess myself and to watch my potential opponents and prepare for them.
DL: The 2011 National Championship gold medal match between you and Daryl Homer was a nail biter and a memorable fencing bout, but it featured a disputed call at the end that clearly left you and Homer at odds with one another. Were you able to put differences aside leading up to the 2012 Olympics?
TM: Yeah, definitely. Daryl and I are both as competitive as they come. If you see us on the fencing strip, we’re trying to kill each other, but off the strip, we’re great friends. I’ve known Daryl since he was a young kid. I’ve gotten to see him grow into a great fencer, and the best thing is his journey is just starting. He has amazing potential in the 2016 Olympics to win a medal. Hopefully he will continue beyond Rio as well. It’s always disappointing when a match ends without a clean, clear action; but we got over it, and I’m excited to see what his future brings.
DL: As an Olympian, what do you make of the Shin A. Lam controversy in London and what do you think the FOC can do to avoid future errors like that of Lam’s?
TM: That was the perfect storm of horrible, horrible things. One—there was a young child keeping time in the bout who may have been in over her head. Two—we’re using the same technology in the sport that we we’ve been using since the 1980s when I started. Imagine if we were still using rotary phones and black and white TVs today, and it’s the same concept we’re seeing in Fencing, which is lack of progressing technology. You can’t add tenths of a second to the bout clock, and that’s what was needed in Lam’s bout.
We have a lot of room for improvement. The replay system started a few years ago has been a good start, but we have a long way to go. It was sad to see Lam’s bout end the way it did.
DL: In your book American Fencer, you talk about the pressure of obtaining good results in order to maintain your stipend. Has that made your fencing career more stressful, and do you think being a professional athlete has made fencing any less fun?
TM: No. The stipend is such a small piece of the puzzle. Most people aren’t even getting a stipend, and if they do, it’s maybe $1,000 a month or something. In fencing, there’s always pressure to perform.
One thing I love about sports and the US system is if you make the results, you make the team. You may have controversy over calls, but at the end of the day you have a full season to perform. It’s very cut and dry.
A lot of countries base their selections on someone picking their athletes instead of using a points system. If that had happened, I may not have ever made an Olympic team. In the US, it’s about performance.
You have to put up the points. You have to put up the wins. If I didn’t make the team, it means I didn’t get the wins I needed, so the stipend itself never bothered me.
DL: You recently competed in your third Olympic Games with a finish in the top 8. You’re clearly not showing any signs of slowing down. What are your short term goals and long term goals in fencing, and do you think we’ll see you competing in the Veterans 70 division?
TM: I don’t know about the Rio Olympics, but I’ll definitely be competing in the veterans 70 division. I love fencing and will fence my whole life. Whether I go for the Olympics or not yet, I haven’t decided. Right now, I’m fencing a half season and just doing half the world cups.
With fencing, I’m taking it day by day. I just got married. I need to figure out my career and my life. If fencing fits with that, that’s great—and I’ll continue. If not, I’ll fence for exercise. One of the great things about fencing is that you can do it your whole life. Other sports you have a time limit. A female gymnast is done by 19. Football, if you don’t make the NFL, you’re done when you graduate college. In fencing, you can always find a division and level where you can fence.
DL: When you finish your career, how would you like to be remembered by the fencing community?
TM: I truly want to feel like I’ve left the sport in a better place. I might not go down as the greatest Olympian of all time; but in terms of my results, I feel like I had a strong fencing career with my silver medal and a couple of national championships. Aside from results, I want to be remembered as the person who had the largest positive impact on the sport—and that drives me with a lot of my initiatives and things I’m taking on today.
My silver medal has allowed me to reach more people because it’s an international symbol of accomplishment. Anywhere you go in the world people know about the Olympic ideals and what an Olympic medal means. It’s a great segway to connect with people and to inspire them and move them.
The pieces are there to make fencing one of the strongest sports in the country, not just with results, but with the way the sport positively impacts people’s lives. If I can help facilitate that, even in a small way, it’s really meaningful to me, and that’s how I hope to be remembered.
Damien is a competitive fencer and volunteer assistant coach at DC Fencers Club in Silver Spring, Md. Damien was the coach of a London 2012 Olympic Athlete in Modern Pentathlon. He is an A-rated epeeist and was a member of the 2012 North American Cup Gold Medal Men’s Epee Team.
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