Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
I think it's pretty clear high school students these days do way, way more than me and my friends back in the early 2000's. Before even enrolling, teenagers have set up non-profits to help feed the hungry or sold off start-ups, while I spent the majority of time trying to beat Goldeneye 64 on the 00 Agent difficulty level (WHICH I DID, THANK YOU). Still, as we were moving into our dorms in August 2004, there were your usual healthy mix of nerdy overachievers, with class presidents, valedictorians and captains of state champs. If you wanted to stand out when you got to campus, you needed something special. Something like a gold medal, and the sword you used to procure it.
That was how Mariel Zagunis came to Notre Dame, fresh from Athens after winning the first U.S. fencing gold medal fencing in a century. Her journey to her first Olympics were like something out of an episode of Friday Night Lights, as she initially failed to make the U.S. Olympic team. After Nigeria decided not to send their team to Greece, she - as the highest ranked fencer in the world not already competing - was given the spot. At the end of the tournament, she was standing atop the podium, laurel wreath around her head and gold medal around her neck.
From there, she just continued to clean up, winning the individual NCAA title in 2006 and playing a key role in the Irish earning the 2005 national championship. I remember her missing a class of our sophomore seminar because she had to go to Europe to compete for the world championships or some other prestigious international tournament. It was an excused absence.
Mariel took time off to prepare for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she repeated her accomplishment and won another gold medal. She hasn't had time to finish her degree yet, as she was busy qualifying to be the number one seed in London later this summer. I was going to list more of her accolades, but once you start researching all of Mariel's accomplishments, you find that it would be easier to list things she hasn't done in the fencing world, since her official bio on the U.S. fencing page plainly states this:
Mariel is the most decorated fencer in the history of USA Fencing.
Well, there you go. That is not a bad line to have on your bio, and with the possibility of going back-to-back-to-back with gold medals, the list is only going to grow. It's a shame it won't include "Fought off a group of ninjas and pirates while studying in Hesburgh Library," but it is still a very, very thorough curriculum vitae. When all is said and done, Mariel might not be just one of the best Notre Dame athletes to compete in South Bend, but also one of the most decorated United States Olympians of all time.
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