At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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Under the new set-up, the Kiefer kids thrived even more than their father had ever dreamed.  Alex would become an NCAA foil champion at Harvard, and Axel became a first team all-America selection at Notre Dame.  However, it was Lee who really excelled as she began to mount podiums at international cadet and junior championships.  When she entered college at fencing powerhouse Notre Dame, Lee was, in the words of eventual head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia, “a finished product.”  By the time she graduated, she was arguably the most honored student-athlete in that school’s long, illustrious history.  Her fencing accomplishments included a record number of consecutive Pan-American championships, four consecutive individual NCAA championships in her event (a rare occurrence for any sport), participation in the 2012 (London) and 2016 (Rio) summer Olympics, several World Cup wins, and two International Fencing Federation (FIE) Grand Prix championships.

However, from a fencing standpoint, Lee says she is most proud of her performance in 2017.  Not only did she capture her fourth individual NCAA title that year, but her efforts led the Fighting Irish to the first of two consecutive team titles.  This closely followed a victory in the Long Beach FIE Grand Prix which propelled Lee to the #1 world ranking in women’s foil, a first for an American woman, as she also became only the eighth U.S. fencer of any sex or weapon to ever hold a top FIE ranking.  Then in July, Lee led the American women’s foil team to a silver medal at the FIE Senior World Championships -- the team’s highest finish ever.

A passion for medicine has also become a Kiefer family tradition.  Lee herself never felt pushed into medicine, and she was not always certain that she would become a doctor, but gradually she succumbed to the allure and challenges of the profession.  Her mother Teresa is a psychiatrist, and her father Steven is a neurosurgeon in Lexington.  Following in her dad’s footsteps, Alex recently earned an MD degree from U of L and will soon start an internship.  Axel will be a college pre-med senior this fall.

How does one stay near the top of a sport while pursuing the requirements for a medical degree?

Lee says that she is used to this kind of balancing act, accustomed to efficiently managing her time for all of her pursuits.  Discipline, mental toughness, attention to details, and especially competitive fervor are traits that carry over from her fencing to her medical studies, and vice versa.  She enjoys learning new things in school, and she says there are still plenty of new fencing tactics that she is learning, even after nearly seventeen years in the sport.  The two pursuits prevent tedium, keep her mind sharp and engaged.

Lee’s fencing career is not over.  In April of this year she was on the podium again at a World Cup event in Germany, and currently she is ranked #3 in the world by the FIE.  She fences and cross-fit trains for several hours a week at home or at the BFC.  Competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympiad is just one of her many remaining aspirations.  Fencing is still fun.  Lee says there is no better feeling than socializing and practicing new tricks and tactics with fellow fencers in the gym.  When she eventually completes med school and ceases competition, she would like to give back to the sport in some way, perhaps as a source of knowledge and inspiration for aspiring newcomers.      

A link between exercise and mental and physical well-being has been recognized since antiquity.  Even modest exertion is now thought to be associated with a decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia, and most people feel more confident and capable if they are physically active.  The Romans, specifically the poet Juvenal, had a saying which urged individuals to perfect the mind-body connection, calling for “mens sana in corpora sano,” or “a healthy mind in a healthy body.”  This was one of Harry Truman’s favorite phrase. This also is a motto for many schools, military organizations, and sports teams.

One person who embodies this ideal is second year UK medical student Lee Kiefer of Versailles.  Many practicing or aspiring doctors engage in recreational or competitive sports to bring balance and enjoyment to their notoriously busy lives, but she takes the idea to its highest level.  Lee is a competitive international fencer, and one of the world’s best.  It is hard to believe that this young, rather humble and quiet, lean, five-feet-four woman is the same aggressive dynamo that one sees in competition.  She credits her athletic and educational success to innate ability, hard work, and a very strong competitive drive, attributes that serve her well in both endeavors.  She is also quick to credit much of her success as a fencer to the expert coaching she has received in Louisville, Lexington, and college, beginning with her first coach, her dad.


For Lee, fencing has truly been a family affair.  Her father Steve grew up in Erlanger, was a foilist and fencing team captain at Duke.  When he was looking for an activity to engage seven-year-old Lee and her two siblings (something that would fit their personalities and less-than-massive physiques) he naturally turned to fencing, with the foil as the weapon of choice.   (Almost any foil fencer will assert, with good reason, that foilist are the smartest, quickest, most agile, patient, resilient, resourceful, and best looking of all fencers.)

So, Lee, her older sister Alexandra (“Alex”), and younger brother Axel took up fencing at an early age.  Dad was a benevolent but demanding taskmaster, hammering away about the importance of boring things like footwork, while the kids also commuted to distant Louisville for expert instruction.  “It was hard at first,” says Lee.  “It takes two or three years before you know if you will be any good.  We were getting tired.  But there was one good thing.  We were too tired to get into any trouble.”  But a love for fencing eventually blossomed, especially since all three Kiefer children demonstrated great aptitude for the sport and winning became its own reward.  The situation further improved when Steven was able to persuade foil guru Amgad Khazbak to relocate from Houston to Lexington as maestro of the newly established Bluegrass Fencers’ Club (BFC), where Lee still trains.


Dr. Goodenow practiced medicine for 42 years, the last 37 as an endocrinologist at the Lexington Clinic