July 21, 2009
Meridian athletes to try hand at wheelchair fencing
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News
Before cancer forced the amputation of her left leg at age 18, Lynn Gaddis of Meridian lived and breathed high school basketball.
Afterwards, she found other ways to be athletic. “In college, I could do a whole routine on the uneven parallel bars and dismount on one leg,” she said.
So it’s no surprise that she plans to join the action at a July 24 wheelchair fencing clinic at Highland Park in Meridian. At age 53, Gaddis still can’t resist the chance to test her mettle.
The clinic is hosted by Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s therapeutic recreation program. And program director Ginny Boydston said the sport should appeal to those who share Gaddis’ competitive spirit. Even without the fancy footwork, wheelchair fencing features exciting swordplay.
During a bout, competitors lock wheelchairs into metal frames and fence at an arm’s length distance from a seated position. Scoring is done electronically, and points are awarded when the weapon touches a specific target area.
"In some ways, wheelchair fencing is faster and more intense," said Richard Jones, a volunteer coach for the Blade Rollers, Methodist Rehab’s wheelchair fencing team. "Able-bodied fencers use their feet to gain distance from an attack, while wheelchair fencers are confined in a chair within reach of their opponents.”
“I immediately liked it because of the close contact and the speed,” said Sonia Fogal of Jackson, the Blade Runners only female member. “I am an adrenaline junkie.”
Methodist Rehab formed the Blade Rollers in 2007, and the team recently brought back 11 medals from the U.S. national championships in Grapevine, Texas. Fogal and Joey Brinson of Brandon also earned slots on the U.S. Wheelchair Fencing team, and both hope to make the U.S. team for the next Paralympic games.
Fogal will travel to Poland for her first international competition in October. Meanwhile, she’s helping with the clinics and hoping to recruit more women like Gaddis to wheelchair fencing.
Fogal said she is limited on the tournament level due to a lack of female competitors. “In the Dixie games, the person I fight against all the time is 13 – and I feel like a child abuser,” she joked. “I forget she’s 13, and I try to kill her.”
Boydston promises the swordplay won’t be that intense during the Meridian clinic. But she believes the five hours of instruction will give participants a good introduction to the intricacies of the sport. “The strategies that you use are both physical and mental,” Boydston said. “The more skills you learn, the more intricate the strategies become.”
Gaddis said she looks forward to learning more about wheelchair fencing, and she’s grateful for the chance to be part of Methodist Rehab’s adaptive sports program. Before her career goals got sidetracked by marriage and motherhood, Gaddis had studied to be a therapeutic recreation specialist. Now, she says, “I want to get involved in any way I can.”
The Meridian Wheelchair Fencing Clinic is 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 24 in the Frank Cochran Center at Highland Park in Meridian. It is open to individuals with paralysis or amputations, ages 15 and older.
The event is sponsored by Methodist Rehab, the City of Meridian Parks and Recreation and The Crossings. It is funded by a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, a non-profit that supports spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation. For more information, call Jayne McKinion at 601-679-0025.
Lynn Gaddis of Meridian lost her left leg at age 18 – but not her appreciation for athletic pursuits. She plans to be one of the participants in a July 24 wheelchair fencing clinic hosted by Methodist Rehabilitation Center.
A gold medal winner in national competition and a member of the U.S. Wheelchair Fencing Team, Sonia Fogal of Jackson enjoys introducing others to the adaptive sport.