Spotlight On... Wheelchair Fencing

Abigail Marshall

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!  

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.  

In the next part of the series, we spoke to Abigail Marshall, a 17-year-old wheelchair fencer from Brackley who took up the sport in 2017.

ParalympicsGB’s wheelchair fencers enjoyed a memorable time in Tokyo, with five medals won by the likes of Piers Gilliver, Dimitri Coutya and Oliver Lam-Watson, and Abigail hopes to be part of the squad which heads to Paris in three years.

Abigail told us about her journey into the sport and why she thinks it’s a great one to get involved with at all levels.

Tell us about how you got into fencing and your progression to where you are today

“I became disabled when I was 14 – I had an operation and I hadn’t really done any exercise for a while.

“My mum suggested we had a look at some sports and fencing just stuck out to me, so I decided to have a go at it. I had a lesson with my current coach, really enjoyed it and it’s carried on from there.

“I went to a BDF [British Disabled Fencing] training camp and there were a few of the Great Britain team there, and I just started improving. I’ve been to a few training camps in France and now I’ve become really interested in competing and trying to get as far as I can.”

Why wheelchair fencing over other sports? 

“When I first looked at it, I thought it sounded interesting and I’d never done it before. Before I became disabled, I’d done things like athletics and badminton at school but I thought I’d try something new.

“I really enjoyed it straight away and wanted to continue it.”

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

“I didn’t really know what to expect before I started and I didn’t realise how accessible the top fencers would be. When I went to that first BDF camp, I didn’t know any of the ParalympicsGB people were going to be there so that was a bit of a surprise! I wasn’t expecting to go in and be working towards competitions, I started it as a bit of fun, but I wouldn’t change my path in the sport as I think it has all worked out well.

“It’s nice to have seen the GB squads train and it’s amazing to see what they’ve gone on to achieve.”

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far? 

“It would have to be that first BDF weekend. It was the first time I’d ever gone somewhere where there were a lot of people who were also disabled, which was quite different for me as at school there aren’t really any other disabled people. It was nice to be part of a disabled group all doing sport together, that really meant a lot to me.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends through it and it’s really fun to be fencing with each other.”

What's the best thing about wheelchair fencing? 

“Of course it’s winning matches but when I don’t, I really like the process of improving and learning for next time. That’s the main reason I like fencing, improving and having to use different tactics.

“At the moment, I’m working on the flicks you can do in foil. I have been working on that a lot and it’s nice to see some improvement while I’m fighting.

“I also learn from watching the top wheelchair fencers. Sometimes I’ll watch them and think ‘I see what they’re doing there’ and I might have a go at it, and sometimes it works. Watching it definitely helps.”

What’s something only a wheelchair fencer would know or appreciate?   

“Whenever I tell people I do fencing, the usual reaction is ‘that must hurt a lot’. It doesn’t hurt all the time but I do have the odd bump and bruise!

What would you say to someone considering trying wheelchair fencing? 

“It is a very active sport and it’s definitely one people should try out. It’s really fun and hopefully the Paralympic success will inspire more people to get involved. The more fencers there are, the more people you can spar with and we can all improve together.”

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give wheelchair fencing a try? Check out our club finder!