Quest For Gold
The Atlanta Wheelchair Fencing World Cup was a special event for the United States, being only the 2nd such event held on American soil. The Shepherd Center was special host to 73 fencers from 12 different countries including France, Poland, Great Britian, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Spain, Germany, Brazil, and Italy. I give much, much thanks to Bob Baird sports team coordinator, Rebecca Washburn, and Joy Burns among others of the Shepherd therapeutic recreation department, for pulling off the event in such an awesomely organized and prepared way. They really went all out to take care of the athletes and make it simple for us to focus on the task at hand, competing at the highest level. I would especially like to thank them and Shepherd for putting forth the extra effort to guarantee that there would be a C-class (quadriplegic) category in this event, as there are not always enough competitors in this category to have a class of our own. I want to say thanks for including incentives (they waived the $250 dollar entry fee) to get other C-class fighters here from other parts of the world. They spared no expense in getting world-class equipment, armorers, judges, and sponsors to help in making this the success that it was. Thanks to Coloplast, The United States Paralympic Committee, and The Shepherd Center for sponsoring the event. I can guarantee that the athletes from here and abroad had fantastic time both in competing and in enjoying each other's company. The weather was especially kind with just a hint of fall in the air and radiant sunshine every day of the event. Hurricane Isabel spared us her wrath taking a northern route, though she did wreak havoc on the middle-eastern seaboard; causing millions of dollars worth of damage.
This was my second world cup event and first time ever competing against quadriplegics from other parts of the world. Because in America there are only two quadriplegic fencers, Tony Boatright and myself, we do not usually have the luxury of fighting in C-class and regularly get stuck fighting B-class with the higher level paraplegics; and because of the way direct elimination is set-up much like tennis the number one seed fights the last place seed. So we in C-class not only have to fight B-class fencers, but we always get stuck fighting the best B-class fencers because of the structure of direct elimination. So you other quadriplegics out there, I implore you to get involved with fencing as it is a wonderful sport and we need at least 2 more quad fencers here in the United States to have our own class in national competitions. If you are a little too weak to compete in quad rugby then perhaps fencing will be your sport, I am a C-5 complete with no trace of working triceps. We also need more women fencers to get involved so that women's fencing can like quadriplegic fencing become more varied and competition friendly.
It was a grand spectacle to be witness to such a huge gathering of countries and cultures as languages mixed with a dialogue of swordplay as fencers took to frames and strips to battle for points. There are 3 weapons for men and 2 weapons for women to compete in. A World Cup is much like the Paralympics minus the other sports; it was a unique look into world competition and athletes that spend their lives training to be best in the world at what they do. Disability always seems to be associated to missing or lacking something- movement, abilities, independence, however, these athletes are redefining what disability means. Anyone that was witness to this event and quality of competition would never have thought of anything as being amiss or lacking.
Three weapons are fought in fencing- epee, foil, and sabre. Epee is a long thin thrusting rapier type weapon with a blunt tip at the end that depresses inward once contact is made. The way a fencer scores is by hitting their opponent anywhere above the waist, in the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, body, or head. Epee is a first blood type weapon in that the way you score is by making contact with your opponent's body before they can reach and score on you. Also with epee both combatees can score at the same time as long as their attacks are near simultaneous. Foil is a thinner lighter type weapon with the same kind of blunt depressing tip. With foil there is a smaller bellguard (bellguard is what protects the hand in epee fencing because the hand is a legal target area and therefore needs a larger belllguard to protect it from attack) because the only legal target areas are to the midsection, shoulder, back with arm hand and head not counting as scoring options. Also in foil one must have what is called 'right of way' which basically means one must have the right of attack to score a point. It is sort of like in volleyball when a team must be serving to gain a point. Foil is similiar in that one must parry (deflect an opponent's attack) to then have 'right of way' to score on your opponent. Foil is characterized by a lot of 'off target' shots that don't count because of the limited target area. Sabre is a slashing and thrusting type weapon that has a long slender blade and is held more like a machete or a cutlass than a rapier. There is no depressing tip on the weapon as the whole length of the blade is used to score on one's opponent. In sabre one can attack any part of the body waist up with head, hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, and body being all legal target areas. Sabre is another weapon characterized by the 'right of way' aspect of fencing.
These weapons are connected by wire to a scoring box that counts touches as fencers score on each other. The judge says fencers ready, then fence, so that the fencers know when to start their attacks and dialogue of swordplay. The way the tournament broke down was with men fighting epee on Friday and women fighting foil. Saturday men fought foil and women fought epee. Sunday the men fought sabre. Women do not fight sabre as it has been mentioned to me that there is simply not enough interest in the sport.
I would like to congratulate my friends from the American Team - Tony Boatright, who got two silver medals in foil and epee, Curtis Lovejoy, who captured bronze in Sabre, Gerard Moreno, who also captured bronze in sabre, Scott Rodgers who captured silver in foil, and myself for capturing two bronze medals in epee and foil. I give final thanks to my coach, Janusz Mylnarz, for dedicating his time to the Shepherd Team. Much thanks to all the volunteers who committed time and effort to this event and special thanks to Audra and Brock for dedicating their every Saturday morning, afternoon to aiding us in our practices. To the rest of the Shepherd staff that I did not name specifically, thanks for all of your help and for cheering us on when we were fighting fencers from other parts of the world.
I would like to mention one last thing. Even though the American team walked away with 5 medals in this World Cup, I feel that in order for us to compete at the levels of the Hong Kong, Polish, French, British, and Kuwaiti Teams, we must have further corporate and private sponsorships, so that we can practice more often than we are. Those aforementioned teams live near each other and get paid to just fight and represent their countries. The Hong Kong team is fighting 6 hours a day 6 days a week. The Kuwaiti's fight two 4 hour sessions, six days a week. The Hong Kong, Kuwaiti, Polish, and French fencers are right now, the best in the world. Most of my teammates on the American Team have jobs they must work just to get by. We practice together once a week for 3 hours, with the rest of our training coming on our own. All of us would love to be able to just focus on fencing, but are not able to because of having to make a living. If it were not for Shepherd and The United States Paralympic Committee, we would not even be able to what we are doing.
We already have a non-profit called Endeavor Freedom set-up to handle funding should anyone out there be kind enough to support us in our endeavor to represent our country in a way that would make us all proud. To donate a tax-deductible donation to support the American Wheelchair Fencing Team, please send checks to 39 Alexander Street, Winder, GA 30680 in the name of Endeavor Freedom. We will reply with a letter of tax documentation, returned to the address of sender. A video can be provided to large corporate sponsors that may wish to sponsor us continuously or with large lump sum. Also a DVD of this past world cup event is in the process of being made. If you have never seen wheelchair fencing, it is an incredibly exciting sport. We appreciate in advance any considerations you may have in supporting the American Team in its quest for Gold in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.