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All in the family: Fencing parents reflect on raising Olympians

By Talia Massi, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | July 29, 2021, 3:54 p.m. (ET)

U.S. fencer Lee Kiefer smiles and holds a medal aloft after winning gold in the women's foil at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

For Olympians, support is key to becoming a high caliber athlete.

Family is available to drive them to practices, cheer them on at tournaments and offer advice. Support is unconditional for the fortunate.

Many members of the U.S. fencing team have parents and siblings who fit that description.

"I don't think I can even really tell you,”  Suzy Hoyle, mother of Jake Hoyle (Columbia, fencing), said when asked what it means to have a child who is an Olympian. “I’m having a lot of trouble not crying all the time right now. I can't even tell you how much it means to us.”

“And the greatest thing that I can say about my son is that that’s only one part of what makes him so great. He’s that good of a person. I feel so really privileged to have had him as my child.”

At Columbia, Jake Hoyle was a walk-on, but impressed those around him by earning his second straight NCAA championship title in men’s epee his senior year. He is competing in his first Olympic Games.

His dad, Charlie Hoyle, shared his wife’s sentiment.

"I have been a sports guy my whole life,” he said. “I remember being a young child, I don't even know how old, but laying in front on the floor in front of the TV with the Olympics and just being at awe of the talent of everybody. So to me, I mean it's a dream.” 

“It's something that I haven't thrived for, but it's something that you would wish for any of your kids, something to achieve that high level, that pinnacle I mean, and (in) his sport, this is it. It’s the top of the top. It's very gratifying, it's humbling, it's a lot of things. It's very cool.”

Despite Jake suffering a loss in his first match, he had the full support of his parents. He will compete in the men’s epee team event on Thursday.

Steven Kiefer, father of Lee Kiefer (Notre Dame, fencing), is amazed at how Lee has evolved at each Olympic Games she has attended. 

Lee, a three-time Olympian, competing in 2012, 2016 and 2020. At Notre Dame, she was a four-time individual women’s foil NCAA champion and First Team All-American.

"Oh it's amazing, you know, the thought of getting to go to the Olympics at all is amazing, let alone the opportunity to go to three of them,” Steven said. “And it's an evolution, and she's a different person at each one. … And she's gotten over the years to be just a more savvy, experienced strategist and just more mature, more poised.” 

“When you combine that with everything else, she's really a force to be reckoned with.”

His wife, Teresa, said she’s most in awe at how her daughter “works very, very hard to balance her fencing, school and her personal life, so that part is very impressive.”

Lee became the first American woman to win gold in individual foil. She will compete in the team event on Wednesday.

Sally Dershwitz, the twin sister of Eli Dershwitz (Harvard, fencing), admires her brother’s passion and work ethic.

Eli is a two-time individual men’s sabre NCAA champion and during his senior year, had a perfect 32-0 record with over 100 touches. This is his second Olympics.

"Like so so meaningful for a lot of reasons,” Sally said. “One, it's so cool that the person I'm closest to in the world found something that is so important to him, and that he can dedicate his life to something that he really, really loves (It) is really wonderful to see. … (It’s) also a little surprising, given nobody would ever look at our family and be like ‘that's one athletic family,’ which is why it's also kind of funny (because) neither of my parents are that athletic and they turned out with an Olympic son.”

Her father, Mark, agrees.

"Well, when you think about how few people make the Olympic team compared to how many people aspire to do that, it's nothing short of amazing,” he said.


Talia Massi, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Talia Massi is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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