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Olympic gold fencer arrives on campus

Matt Lozar | Monday, August 30, 2004

Mariel Zagunis knows how to work hard – her gold medal in women’s saber attests to that.

Now, the 19-year old freshman from Beaverton, Ore. has to carry that work ethic over to the classroom.

And make up for four days of missed classes.

“I haven’t gone to school or class for over a year, but I’m ready to get out there and ready to learn,” Zagunis said. “It’ll be hard to get used to it again. I think I can handle it, or I hope I can.”

Zagunis was scheduled to attend her first classes this morning, starting with a swim test at 8:30 a.m.

She has been in Europe since Aug. 4 and won the gold medal in women’s saber Aug. 17.

“I have been working so hard for this, and it’s just a very good example of how hard work pays off and how if you really dedicate yourself to something that you really, really want more than anything in the world, then you are going to get it,” Zagunis said. “That’s what I did and that’s what happened.”

The demanding training schedule made going straight from high school to college impossible. Zagunis signed with Notre Dame in November 2002, but took a year off to concentrate on making the U.S. Olympic team, before coming to South Bend.

“Notre Dame has always appealed to me as a school,” Zagunis said. “I had been to tournaments in South Bend. I have been around here before, and I know a couple of alumni and everyone has nothing but good things to say.

“It just always appealed to me. It felt natural and right.”

Irish coach Janusz Bednarski knows the transition will be difficult for Zagunis, but he believes Zagunis’ personality has her a step ahead of the game.

“She is a good kid and has good character, which is the best for the team. She can show she’s a hard worker. It’s not a privilege. She tries to do it [be successful]. I think this is the most important thing,” Bednarski said. “Time is divided between studies and fencing. The team has a goal to win. Now she has to step into the other field. It will not be easy. I think it will be a challenge.”

Meanwhile, her mother Cathy knows her daughter has had a very emotional past two weeks, and the adjustment to living alone at college is going to be difficult.

“She’s sensitive about it, out of school for a year. I’m concerned already,” Cathy Zagunis said. “She’s just getting settled as a freshman. She may have a letdown physically and be emotionally drained.”

All of the attention Zagunis has received and jetlag that’s bound to set in during the next couple of days may lead to a rough first week at Notre Dame.

But now she’s ready to just be a college student.

“I’m not here only to fence or party,” Zagunis said stumbling over that last word. “I’m here to also go to class, learn and get an education.”