En Garde!: Tales of Triumph from a Wheelchair Fencer

By Jonathan Collins

Iam Jonathan Collins and this is my story of how the empowering sport of wheelchair fencing changed my life, my health and helped me lunge out of my comfort zone. I am 31 years old. I was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, I am wheelchair dependent and I have had several periods of ill health. In 2004 an undiagnosed shunt failure left me with severe sight loss.

Jonathan Collins suited up for wheelchair fencing

Life Before Adaptive Sports Changed it All

I attended the local mainstream school and I wasn't encouraged to do any sport. I tried Boccia at a club, 30 miles away, but I was the youngest by at least 50 years! I also went to some "sports taster sessions" but nothing was worth pursuing. A weekly trip to a swimming pool became my only form of activity but, unfortunately, this came to an end when another health issue occurred.

After school I went to college to do an IT course and I became a volunteer at the world-famous Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England which is something I still do and still enjoy very much.

I loved watching sports on television especially rugby, athletics and football. I have been a Manchester United fanatic since my childhood and have a large collection of Manchester United football shirts and memorabilia.

All these things gave me something to focus on and I was quite happy except that I was putting weight on and feeling quite lethargic at times. I knew I had to do something.

Crossing Swords Empowered Collins to Push Past His Limits

It was great news when I was told there was a Fencing club that accepted wheelchair users only 10 miles away. Though it had had been running for some time, I didn't know it existed. I went along and met my trainer, Viv Mills, who is well known in the Wheelchair Fencing World. Viv is very patient and understanding but she expects me to do my best and put up a good fight.

She points out my mistakes, shows me how to correct them and explains new things but is always full of encouragement so I look forward to every session. My favourite weapon is the Sabre, but I also do the Foil.

Jonathan Collins with Fencing Award

Wheelchair Fencing has given me my confidence back. It has opened up my world! I have had the privilege of attending some of the training camps that the Great Britain team go to where I met our Great Britain fencers and have even fought against some of them.

Wheelchair Fencing has made a great impact on my life. It made me aware that I was overweight, so I did something about it. I have lost 3 stones and I feel a lot fitter, look a lot thinner, and now I'm much poorer as I needed a whole new wardrobe of clothes! I have made a lot of new friends and I feel a lot happier.

In 2016 I posted a video on my Facebook page proved life-changing. The video showed me fencing at a training session but in the video the Sabres had been changed to lightsabres. The video generated a lot of interest and I received e-mails from all over the world.

Wheelchair Fencer Busts Out of his Frame

One email came from a lady who lived in South Wales. She had written a book about amputee cycling and wanted other people with disabilities to write about their own sport. She asked me if I would write about Wheelchair Fencing and said she would support me as much as she could. I had never done anything like this before and, with my disabilities, I knew writing a book would be challenging but I agreed to have a go. Progress was slow at times, researching facts and trying to ensure everything was correct took a lot of time.

There were times when I found writing the book became too stressful and I would be on the verge of giving up. Fortunately, "the book lady" as she became known was true to her word and was either at the other end of the phone or responded quickly to emails. Her help and encouragement always saved the day for which I am truly thankful and my book, INTO THE FRAME, appeared for sale on Amazon in January 2019 and there is also a Kindle version available. The book title refers to the fact that the Fencing Wheelchairs are clamped down onto a very heavy frame so they cannot move.

Into the Frame Wheelchair Fencing BookThe book was written as an insight into Wheelchair Fencing. It is aimed at the beginner, or somebody wanting to know what to expect from Wheelchair Fencing. It is easy to read and understand and covers facts and information about the sport. There is a section on the history of the sword and the history of the sport. It shows the three types of weapons used: Epee, Foil and Sabre, and explains that each weapon has its own rules. It also covers more practical things like the clothing and equipment required alongside some rules, regulations, classifications and tournament etiquette.

The most interesting part for me was contacting people connected with the sport at all levels, including club members, retired fencers, officials, top ranking fencers, Paralympians and World Champions. Their photographs and life stories are epic parts of the book.

The book became a project that took almost 3 years to complete and during this time I was able to continue fencing. I attended club sessions and managed to go to some training camps alongside the Great Britain squad at Stoke Mandeville and Moulton College. I attained First Place in the Novice Challenge which ran alongside the British Disability Fencing National Championships in 2018 and was surprised when I heard that I had been nominated as 2018 Fencing Sports Personality of the year. I came second. Not bad for a relatively unknown, but it's nice to know my efforts to promote Wheelchair Fencing were recognised.

I couldn't help but notice that wheelchair fencing is featured at the upcoming Abilities Expo which takes place August 6-8 in Houston, Texas. I urge everyone to go out and give it a go! You don't have to be at the "TOP" to enjoy fencing. It is GREAT AT ALL LEVELS!

About the Author:

You can follow wheelchair fencer and author Jonathan Collins on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. His book, INTO THE FRAME, can be found on Amazon and Goodreads.

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