For 27-year-old Lee Kiefer, fencing is a family affair. Her father, a neurosurgeon, was an avid fencer who competed in local tournaments around Kentucky and neighboring states. He was a captain of the men’s fencing team at Duke University.
Lee was seven years old when her father encouraged her and her siblings to embrace the sport. “When I first picked up a foil, I did not love it,” she remembers. “It was heavy, and the rules [of fencing] were confusing. My only strength at that point was my competitive spirit.” That energy eventually landed her at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games as one of the country’s top-ranked foil fencers.
She didn’t medal at either Olympics, but Kiefer has been using a new training technique in her quest for gold in the Summer Games in Tokyo: she added asana into her training regimen at the start of the pandemic as a way to boost her flexibility, improve her fencing posture, and calm her often-racing mind.
“Being able to breathe and exist in the present is a challenge for me,” she says. “Yoga gives me the chance to slow down and feel in sync with my body.”
“When I am fencing my best, I have a feeling that combines trusting my training and past experiences on the [fencing] strip to give me a sense of control—where I am calm and explosive simultaneously. Yoga has played a role in my maturity to be able to tap into this more often,” she says.
These days, the high-achieving athlete tries to squeeze in at least two or three vinyasa or Power Yoga classes every week in between strength and conditioning training, fencing lessons, practice and medical school classes at the University of Kentucky. “For my lower-back discomfort,” she says, “Happy Baby is my favorite pose.”