Olympic athletes have a lot on their plates: training schedules, physical therapy, team bonding — it’s more of a lifestyle than a job, Olympian Kelley Hurley said.
A 28-year-old fencer for Team USA and Notre Dame alumna, Hurley is considering retirement upon her third — and possibly final — Olympic appearance in Rio de Janeiro. The reason? Training as an Olympian requires pronounced, life-altering commitment.
“It has definitely not been easy balancing my personal life and Olympic life,” Hurley said. “My sister Courtney and I had to move away from home, away from all of my friends and boyfriend and parents, to train for the last two years. I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices.”
Hurley and her boyfriend, 28-year-old Casey Ness, met four years ago in their hometown of San Antonio. Since first meeting, Ness said he knew Hurley was a serious fencer. While Ness said he understood training for the Olympics would be a big time commitment, the distance that comes with Hurley’s intense training regimen can take its toll.
“It is extremely exciting and stressful at the same time to date an Olympian,” Ness said. “I am so proud of (Kelley) and like to show her off. The stressful part, though, is that we’re apart a lot with her traveling the world all the time for competitions.”
Fortunately, Ness said, he’s been able to travel some of the world with Hurley over the last year and a half to show his support.
“Watching Kelley compete is a little nerve wracking at times because I am her biggest fan and believe she is better than everyone else in the world,” Ness said. “I’m always on my edge of my seat and sweating nervously.”
When Kelley falls short at competitions, Ness said it’s especially tough to know when to comfort her or stay away for a while because the mind of an athlete is “very different and competitive,” but it’s something he’s learned to handle.
“I have seen Kelley beat people she never thought she’d beat, and I have seen her lose when I felt like she would dominate,” Ness said. “I’ve had to figure out the best thing to do in those situations, good or bad, and that’s something that few people can understand if they don’t have such a dedicated athlete in their life.”
For Hurley, the fight to stay committed to her sport and to her family is a mutual understanding, she said. Although she wishes she could spend more time with those she’s close to, Hurley emphasized that training for the Olympics is an “honor but a choice,” and it’s one she said she’s stuck with.
“Some parts were more difficult than others, but you have to be willing to make sacrifices. Every high-level athlete knows this,” Hurley said. “Being away from my boyfriend and my family has been the toughest sacrifice I have had to make for my sport, but I’m sure I would do it again. Everyone that I love — and loves me — understands.”
For Courtney Hurley, training with her sister has made the relationship between dedication and sacrifices “more clear.” The 25-year-old has trained with her sister her whole life, but watching how Kelley balances her fencing and personal lives has helped her do the same, especially while training for her first Olympic game.
“I look up to her so much,” Courtney said. “I think she does a great job at balancing the things that are most important to her, even though it might be really hard. But I know what that’s like, too, and it’s been really important for us to have one another by our side as we’ve taken this journey.”
The Hurley sisters became the first of seven U.S. siblings to earn a ticket to Rio back in February. They were both members of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team at the London Games, which was the first ever podium finish for the squad. Despite an early elimination at the Games in Rio, Kelley said the sisters are headed home with heads high, and Ness said he’s happy to have made the journey alongside them.
“It’s hard always competing and being away from the people she loves, and I feel like I am a part of Kelley’s success,” Ness said. “But overall, it’s been a great experience, and I’m so happy I was able to come to Rio and witness (Kelley) compete. I feel blessed to be a part of her success.”
Casey Smith is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.