While at first glance it may seem like fencing is a sport limited to able-bodied athletes, parafencing, or wheelchair fencing, was introduced to the world at the International Stoke Mandeville Games (ISMG) back in 1954.  At the time, a demonstration was given by a paraplegic patient and his instructor, who had been a prominent German fencer throughout his own career. 

When wheelchair fencing first developed, the wheelchairs provided by the Ministry of Pensions were heavy brown chairs that didn’t provide for much movement. As time progressed, wheelchairs became lighter and easier to move, which then presented an issue of stability as the fencers became more agile and adept at their sport. The sport is now accessible to males and females with spinal cord injuries, amputations, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities. 

Oakland University Welcome’s Wheelchair Fencing

While parafencing is a recognized sport, clubs designed for those in wheelchairs are fewer and further between than traditional training groups. The USA’s Oakland University, in conjunction with the Fencing Society at OU (FSOU), introduced the accommodation to the program just this year. As a matter of fact, the wheelchair fencing team has the distinction of being the first accessible club at OU.

The team’s captain, Alissa Bandalene, started out as an able-bodied fencer. She heard about wheelchair fencing, watched some YouTube videos, and wanted to give the sport a shot. The problem? The nearest parafencing academy was too far away, and local clubs just didn’t seem interested in incorporating it into their schedules. 

Turns out, turning to FSOU wasn’t a bad idea at all. Bandalene approached some of the coaches, who were not only really excited about the idea, but already had some connections within the parafencing community. Bandalene is the only wheelchair fencer on the team, but able-bodied fencers take turns sparring with her, using a chair they had to put together for the task. The club is working to raise funds for the right equipment.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone in the club. FSOU fencers working with Bandalene get to help her work out while focusing on their blade work, leaving footwork aside for a while. The wheelchairs force them to work in close quarters, which helps everyone get more comfortable with their techniques. 

We love watching fencing become more and more accessible to people from different walks of life around the world; and we can’t wait to see how Alissa Bandalene and her team do in the future. 

Know someone who would like to try fencing but thinks they can’t? Give us a call. Our coaches are open to discussion and will do all they can to find a way to help.