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Princeton to Paris: Hadley Husisian ’27 is off to the Olympic Games

A woman standing with a medal around her neck holding flowers and smiling
A third-place finish at the Qatar Grand Prix in January vaulted Husisian up the Olympic qualification rankings
Photo courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers/Augusto Bizzi

“I was first introduced to [fencing] through an episode of iCarly, with The Fencin’ Bensons,” épée fencer Hadley Husisian ’27 told The Daily Princetonian. “It’s pretty iconic among fencers just because it’s like that or The Parent Trap, or [how] Pirates of the Caribbean is pretty much the sole reason anyone had ever even heard of the sport.”

Nearly 16 years since the “iFence” episode of iCarly hit the airwaves, Husisian has punched her ticket to Paris, where she will represent the United States this summer and become the 18th Tiger fencer ever to qualify for the Olympic Games. 

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It wasn’t until she turned 10 years old that Husisian began to fence, but she immediately committed herself to the sport.

“I went weirdly hardcore from the beginning. Like for absolutely no reason, going seven days a week, five hours a day. I was not any good. I don’t know why I was doing all that,” she quipped. 

In those early days of her fencing career, Husisian fenced with Fencing Sports Academy, based out of Fairfax, Va. Very soon after she started, she shifted to working with what is currently Elite Fencing Academy, a club located in Springfield, Va. The primary reason for her shift was to continue working with her coach, the Cuban fencing great Guillermo Madrigal

“He’s the hardest worker, it’s truly crazy. We’d do a lesson and be so hot that he’d take off his mask, and his head would be literally steaming. And we would practice any time of day, he does not stop. So, he’s the most committed man I’ve ever met,” Husisian added about Madrigal.

Fencing is a small sport with a tight-knit community. USA Fencing currently has only 37,000 members, and to find a quality fencing club, a fair bit of searching is required. During the pandemic, the sport took a toll: the number of members fell to just over 15,000, and the small circle of fencers became even smaller. While the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions disrupted society, Husisian and Madrigal saw an opportunity to hone her craft.

“With school being so eased back that I was like, ‘Okay, I really have nothing else to do, I guess I’ll just train.’ So, it would just be me mostly by myself, in the garage, doing whatever I could to practice, and we’d have Zoom footwork sessions,” she said.  

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This intensive training paid off for Husisian post-pandemic, and she became known as a force on the strip. In 2021–22, the fencer made her first senior national team and won the World Championships for junior épée, a title that she defended last year. 

Following her success, Husisian garnered the attention of current Princeton fencing head coach Zoltan Dudas, who quickly took notice of her potential. Before Husisian even arrived on campus as a first-year in September 2022, Dudas had already begun to see her as an Olympian, inquiring about a gap year for her to prepare for Paris. 

“I suggested [her] to take a year off, because I think the pressure in Princeton is so high,” Dudas told the ‘Prince.’ “It’s a lot of international traveling, and you can do that better if you are arriving there a little bit earlier, you can adjust a little bit to the time zone, every little bit counts.” 

The gap year isn’t a path that all collegiate fencers take in their quest for the Olympics. First-year saber Tatiana Nazlymov, elected to simultaneously study and compete in qualifying events throughout the year. Nazlymov sealed her spot on the United States team in the saber event in late March, while first-year foil Sabrina Fang and senior épée Tristan Szapary have also chosen to compete in qualifying events this year without taking a gap. 

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Husisian, though, found a major support system in her teammate-turned-roommate, junior Maia Weintraub. Weintraub, who is currently in a strong position to qualify for Team USA’s foil group, is currently living with Husisian in an off-campus apartment after she too took a gap to pursue Paris.

“Maia I love to death, I’ve always wanted the opportunity to be closer with her,” Husisian said about Weintraub. “It’s been good having a support system with someone who’s so closely going through your own experiences. She really gets it in a way that pretty much no one else can.”  

While living off-campus, Husisian allocates the vast majority of her time to training, splitting her time between practices with the Princeton program and training sessions at New York’s Fencers Club. There might be no one on campus who’s more familiar with the Dinky as Husisian’s routine brings her to New York no less than five times a week. 

In New York, Husisian’s journey with Madrigal continued. When she’s actually at Fencers Club, Husisian typically trains with her childhood coach, who now doubles as the fencing head coach at New York University. Surrounded by competitive national team fencers, the environment at the club is demanding of world-class performance. Princeton — the nation’s No. 11 women’s collegiate program — is certainly no slouch, but time spent with the Tigers offers Husisian the ultimate comfort of flexibility. Husisian makes her own schedule with Princeton, and the program has offered its open arms, paying special attention to the demanding journey of qualification. 

“Some of my biggest friends on campus are on the team. So it’s great being able to go to their rooms and hang out and talk about stuff,” Husisian said about the team. 

Husisian, who juggled international competitions and NCAA events through her first year at Princeton, earned First Team All-Ivy and All-American honors as a Tiger. Husisian’s dominance played a pivotal role in the Tigers claiming the 2023 Ivy Title, and the program’s runner-up defeat to Notre Dame in the 2023 NCAA Championships. 

Over the past 12 months, though, Husisian has traveled all around the globe, competing in 10 premier international events that feed into a ranked points system

A third-place finish at the Qatar Grand Prix in January vaulted Husisian up the Olympic qualification rankings, leaving her in good standing heading into the final event of the qualifying cycle, the Nanjing World Cup. However, Husisian suffered an early defeat and left her Olympic qualification up to the results of two other Team USA fencers. 

Looking onto the strip at her fellow Team USA fencers, Husisian’s Olympic fate was out of her hands as her teammates-turned-competitors fought for their own spots. 

“As a member of Team USA, our coach has the expectation that we go to the venue and support all the Americans who are still in,” Husisian said to the ‘Prince.’ “But at the same time, we’re all striving for the same goal.” she added. 

The two fencers were ultimately defeated in their bouts. Heartbreak for her Team USA teammates meant a trip to Paris for the sophomore — though she felt mixed emotions. While at Princeton Husisian had enjoyed rooting for her own teammates as part of a tight-knit community, on Team USA, Husisian was had to navigate the clashing ambitions of her teammates as they vied for a ticket to represent the United States on the world stage.

“I was with a couple of friends who had figured out what that bout meant to me and they were quietly giving me a hug,” Husisian said. “It was a lowkey moment, but still one that was very meaningful to me.”

In the moment when Husisian first qualified, falling during the Princeton fencing team actively competing at the NCAA Championships, word quickly spread throughout the program.

“So even though they were competing, one of my friends found out, and she ended up telling everyone around her. They had their own events to worry about, but I got like eight simultaneous text messages from all of my friends on the team who were there,” Husisian remembered. 

“It was early in the morning for them. They had a long day of competition ahead of them,” Husisian continued. “It’s kind of funny, honestly, to see the real-time [reaction] of them finding out and them all reaching out. It was really cute. And I felt very, very loved at that moment.” 

In the ho-hum of the leadup to Paris, Husisian will be doing much of the same as she’s done in the last year — Princeton practice, New York sessions, and repeat. While fencing draws and opponents are conventionally announced a day before an opening bout, allowing little time to prepare for a specific opponent, the Olympics are unique. Husisian, in the coming weeks, will know her opponent for the first round months in advance, offering her and her coaching team the opportunity for extensive scouting and preparation. 

As to what she’s looking forward to in Paris? 

“The idea of being able to go and wander the village and sightsee in France and see other events competing is really exciting,” Husisian said. “So yeah, that’s a big thing, just soaking in every bit of the experience that I can.” 

With Husisian celebrating her 21st birthday and competing in the women’s épée during the opening week of the Olympic Games, she is set for a whirlwind of a week. If the past is any indication, Husisian will take everything as it comes, and focus on what she can control in the lead-up to Paris. 

“It’s all kind of new territory for me, but I’m very excited to experience it,” Husisian finished.  

Whatever happens on the strip in Paris, the future remains bright for Husisian.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be the last Olympic Games for Hadley,” Dudas proudly concluded. “There will probably be many down the line.”

Cole Keller is a head Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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