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Fencers honored at White House

Tori Roeck | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

After representing the United States in this summer’s London Olympics, two Notre Dame students and one alumna were recently given another once-in-a-lifetime experience – this time, stateside.

Senior fencers Gerek Meinhardt and Courtney Hurley and Hurley’s sister, 2010 alumna and fencer Kelley Hurley, were invited to the White House to be honored alongside other returning Olympians on Sept. 14.

Meinhardt, a member of the fourth-place-finishing men’s team foil, said he was impressed by the welcome the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians received from President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“The First Lady, Michelle Obama, gave a speech about how she was in London and led the delegation there,” Meinhardt said. “Then President Obama gave a speech as well about how the Olympics inspired him. It was really nice. The three of them waited and stayed there for an extra hour and shook hands with every single athlete – every Olympian and Paralympian that was there – which was about 500 of us.”

Meinhardt said Obama was personable and welcoming.

“He was very laid-back and really friendly with us. He seemed really humble,” Meinhardt said. “He was really, really cool, and he definitely tried to make us all feel special.”

Courtney, who earned a bronze medal as part of the women’s team epee, said she was anxious prior to meeting the Commander-in-Chief.

“I was very happy and nervous,” Hurley said. “I couldn’t get any words out of my mouth because I was so nervous. Biden was a little less intimidating, and Michelle gave us a hug, which was nice.”

Meinhardt said Obama expressed his gratitude for the students’ dedication to honoring America in the Games.

“I said it was an honor to meet him, and he said congratulations and that they appreciated us representing the U.S.,” Meinhardt said.

Courtney also had the rare opportunity to meet fellow Olympian Michael Phelps at the event.

“I did meet Phelps,” she said. “But to be honest, I wasn’t even interested compared to Obama. I was like, ‘Move out of the way. I’ve got to meet Obama.’”

After the meet and greet held on the Great Lawn, Meinhardt said the Olympians and Paralympians were offered a tour of the White House interior.

“We were able to walk through a short tour of some of the White House rooms, like the big library that they have,” he said.

Meinhardt said she will never forget the opportunity.

“It was a really short trip, but they were really accommodating with us,” he said. “It was a great experience, and it was really nice that the Olympic Committee and obviously the White House were able to organize something like that for us.”