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Dreaming Big, Tim Morehouse Brings Fencing To Schools

By Darci Miller | Jan. 23, 2015, 6:41 p.m. (ET)

Tim Morehouse explains the fundamentals of fencing to a group of children at Queen Palmer Elementary School on Jan. 15, 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Tim Morehouse’s Olympic journey started as a kid.

Morehouse began dreaming of the Olympic Games soon after taking up fencing as a 13-year-old.

After college, however, he instead followed his love of teaching. As a seventh grade teacher in New York, he made a point of imploring his students to pursue their dreams. And one day, one of his students asked him why he wasn’t pursuing his.

Tim Morehouse holds his silver medal from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at Queen Palmer Elementary School on Jan. 15, 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

Now, after three U.S. Olympic teams and a silver medal in team sabre from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Morehouse has turned his attention back to where it all began: kids. As the founder of Fencing in the Schools, his goal is to expose children to the sport he found by accident.

“My school just happened to have fencing,” the New York City native said. “I think there are only 6,000 varsity (fencing) athletes in the country, so I feel really lucky that I had it. I had no idea what it was until I found it at my school.

“I feel very fortunate, and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about trying to give back to kids and to schools and to kind of pay it forward.”

When he returned from Beijing, he had numerous speaking engagements and would get asked about how to get fencing into schools. He realized that he didn’t have a program to refer to and began meeting with sports and school-based education organizations to piece together a model that would work. Fencing in the Schools was founded in 2011 and, in Morehouse’s own words, combines all of his passions: teaching, fencing and Olympic ideals. The organization provides fencing equipment to schools and instructs physical education teachers about the sport and how to teach it. An Olympian kicks off each school’s program by sharing his or her story at an assembly and providing positive motivation messages.

The initial program launched after the London 2012 Olympic Games with 1,500 kids in six schools in Harlem, New York. The following year it expanded to 10,000 kids in seven states. In February 2015, those numbers will reach 15,000 kids in 50 schools across nine states. The goal is to get a million kids fencing by 2023.

“I would say about 99 percent of our kids have never fenced before, and maybe 10-20 percent of them have heard of fencing before,” Morehouse said. “So it’s exciting to be able to expose kids to something that’s a lot of fun for the first time.”

Last week, Morehouse was at Queen Palmer Elementary in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to lead an assembly to inspire another group of kids. Just like when he was a teacher, Morehouse hopes that the kids he interacts with come away from his assemblies with the intent to dream big.

Physical education teachers learn the proper fencing form from Tim Morehouse at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

“Everything starts with having a big goal for yourself, and going for the gold,” he said. “It’s not just an Olympic thing, it’s an everything thing. It’s how you should approach your life in whatever it is you want to do. Being an Olympian is a mindset. Every Olympian embodies these ideals, and a big part of that is you’re going to face challenges, and that’s normal, and you’re not going to give up. You’re going to keep going. And those are probably the two biggest messages that we try to deliver.”

During the assembly, the room gasped and cheered when it was announced that Morehouse won an Olympic silver medal. He spoke of being an underdog, of how simply being himself became his biggest asset and of his unorthodox Olympic celebration: passing out cold when teammate Keeth Smart won the match that sent the U.S. team into the 2008 Olympic final. But nothing got a larger ovation than when two teachers were called to the stage to demonstrate a fencing duel.

One of those teachers was Danielle Ulrich, who was behind Queen Palmer’s efforts to bring in Fencing in the Schools.

“It’s just such a cool opportunity for our kids. That’s the biggest thing,” Ulrich said. “And I’d never been exposed to (the sport). I’d seen it in the Olympics, but I thought that this would be a great chance for me to learn something new and for kids to have an opportunity that they’re never going to have again.”

In the future, Morehouse hopes to expand Fencing in the Schools further and create varsity programs for kids to join. But right now, he’s more than content to raise awareness of his sport and provide these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

“The most rewarding aspect is to just see the look on the kids’ faces,” he said. “And a lot of times we’ll get letters from kids, and even a year later they’ll remember things we talked about, like setting a big goal or not giving up when they have a hard time. And those are the things that make me feel like we’re having a great impact.”

Darci Miller is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Tim Morehouse