By Lois Elfman
To see Olympic silver medalist Tim Morehouse today, you would say he was born to be a fencer—tall and good looking with flair and dashing demeanor. The reality is, he entered the sport on a lark and almost got kicked off his high school’s fencing team for being a jerk—cutting practice and not paying attention. But his coach at New York’s prestigious Riverdale Country School, saw a spark in him and cultivated Morehouse’s love for the combination of athletic skill and strategic thinking that fencing requires. After switching from foil to saber (think of movie duels), his passion took root.
“Pursuing a big goal is the ultimate life learning experience,” says Morehouse, 34. “The bigger the goal you set, the bigger the challenges you face. I thank fencing for giving me confidence and many of the life skills I have today.”
Despite his love of the sport, he wasn’t recruited at the collegiate level. The only coach who saw Morehouse as more than a “semi-good high school fencer” was Bill Shipman at Brandeis University. It turned out to be a blessing because, at Brandeis, Morehouse truly excelled academically and athletically, becoming a three-time All American and being named NCAA Fencer of the Year in 2000 as well as training to be a teacher.
Now headed for his third Olympics, Morehouse has set his sights on gold. In his recently published autobiography, American Fencer: Modern Lessons from an Ancient Sport, he shares stories about how fencing has shaped his character and sense of discipline. He also enlightens readers about what a “small-sport Olympian” faces to pursue his or her Olympic dream—little or no prize money, sponsorship or exposure.
“I think fencing is one of the greatest sports in the world, and I’ve taken every opportunity to tell people and show them why,” says Morehouse, who estimates he’s spoken to over 30,000 students since 2008 at school assemblies and clinics. “It’s a great challenge both mentally and physically. There is something very personal about defending your body as the goal and needing to strike an opponent. Yet, fencing still has its roots in chivalry and honor that date back to its history of kings and nobles dueling to first blood. I also founded the largest fencing spectator tournament in the United States, the Fencing Masters in New York.” And that’s not all. “I’m starting a foundation to bring fencing to inner city schools called Fencing in the Schools. This is really a great combination for me of my passions in education and fencing.”
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Morehouse and his teammates on the men’s saber team set US Olympic history by winning the silver medal. All the more amazing is that leading up to those Games, Morehouse was working full-time (he estimates 60 hours a week) with Teach for America (www.teachforamerica.org) to support himself—first as a teacher and then as a teacher-trainer. He says he had to be very organized and goal-oriented and have perseverance to achieve his goals.
Much of his sense of determination is inspired by his Jewish heritage. His maternal grandmother and two of her sisters escaped from Germany in the mid-1930s. One of his great aunts barely made it out after the Gestapo arrested her husband. Thanks to her quick thinking and the help of gentile friends, he was released. All three sisters settled in the US.
“My grandmother joined the Quakers, having been influenced by their relief work in Germany after World War II. I grew up with a mixture of traditions in my household,” Morehouse says. “My middle name, Frank, is the last name of my Jewish heritage. My sense of being Jewish comes from my awareness of my grandmother’s courage and determination to live in the face of enormous difficulties.”
Since 2008, Morehouse has focused on promoting the sport of fencing and trying to get more people involved. After the Games in London, Fencing in the Schools will kick off a pilot program. He will also continue training because he plans to compete in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2013.
“I hope my foundation will help give kids confidence in themselves, something that makes them excited to come to school and also helps them to lead healthier lives,” says Morehouse, who post-Olympics will also focus on planning his wedding to fiancée Rachael Kun. “I want to take the lessons I’ve learned to continue to help grow the sport that I love.”
Everyone Into The Pool: Our Recent Summer Olympians
Here’s a look at who’s made their mark at past Olympiads, many of them swimmers with multiple O-ppearances and medals. In addition to Tim Morehouse, Sue Bird will be competing in London with a chance to win her third gold. Swimmer Jason Lezak has a chance at his 8th medal. Also competing are gymnasts Alexandra Raisman and Julie Zetlin, epee fencer Soren Thompson, rower David Banks and yachtsman Mark Mandelblatt.
Albert Axelrod: fencing, 1960 bronze (individual)
Isaac Berger: weightlifting, 1956 gold, 1960 and 1964 silver
Sue Bird: basketball, 2004 and 2008 gold
Tiffany Cohen: swimming, 1984 two golds (individual)
Anthony Ervin: swimming, 2000 gold and silver (individual)
Mitch Gaylord: gymnastics, 1984 gold (team), silver and two bronzes (individual)
Brad Gilbert: tennis, 1988 bronze
Scott Goldblatt: swimming, 2000 silver and 2004 gold (team)
Ernie Grunfeld: basketball, gold 1976
Sada Jacobson: fencing, 2004 bronze (individual) and 2008 two silvers (one individual, one team)
Deena Kastor: marathon, 2004 bronze
Lenny Krayzelburg: swimming, 2000 three golds (two individual, one team) and 2004 gold (team)
Jason Lezak: swimming, 2000 gold and silver (team); 2004 gold and bronze (team); 2008 two golds (team) and bronze (individual)
Tim Morehouse: fencing, 2008, silver (team)
Merrill Moses: water polo, 2008 silver
Mark Spitz: swimming, 1968 two golds (team), one silver and one bronze (individual) and 1972 seven golds (four individual, three team)
Kerri Strug: gymnastics, 1992 bronze and 1996 gold (team)
Dara Torres: swimming, 1984 gold (team), 1988 silver and bronze (team), 1992 gold (team), 2000 two golds (team) and three bronzes (individual) and 2008 three silvers (one individual, two team)
Sara Whalen: soccer, 2000 silver