Valley Catholic photo
Mariel Zagunis speaks to a crowd at her alma mater, Valley Catholic.
Valley Catholic photo
Mariel Zagunis speaks to a crowd at her alma mater, Valley Catholic.
Despite years of international competition, some of Olympic fencer Mariel Zagunis’ most cherished memories are still from the soccer fields where she spent her childhood.

That was where she learned the importance of being healthy and active, about teamwork, goal setting, dedication, self-confidence, and a having positive body image. That is where she learned to be a gracious winner and loser.

“There are so many important life lessons that can be learned from playing and being competitive with others and yourself,” she said.

The Valley Catholic graduate is best known for taking gold medals in fencing at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, and for being chosen as the flag bearer for the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympics Parade of Nations.

As a young girl, Zagunis participated in basketball, swimming and track, and at the age of 5, she began playing soccer. She played on the varsity soccer team through her junior year at Valley Catholic, before picking up the sabre. She recalls summer practices and camps fondly, remembering that she never wanted to go home when the sun went down because she was having so much fun.

“The most important thing I can tell young athletes is to find something that you enjoy doing,” she said. “It’s not worth the time and energy if you’re not having fun.”

It’s also OK to participate in sports that are unconventional.

“One of the things I loved about fencing when I started was the fact that none of my friends from school were doing it,” the 25-year-old said.

Try many different activities until you find the one you love best, she suggested, and try not to get discouraged after tough losses.

“Take every win and every loss as a lesson and use it to make yourself a better athlete and a better person,” Zagunis said. “Aim high, believe that you can be the best, and someday you will.”