One man learns to love a new form of seated competition.
When Rick Swauger talks about seated fencing, the 61-year-old's newfound passion is apparent. He describes the clanging blades, how he leans forward in his wheelchair to thrust and the wave of satisfaction when he hits his mark. And that's just a training session at Columbus Fencing and Fitness.
It wasn't exactly love at first bout. Swauger began playing wheelchair basketball after a motorcycle accident in 1979 left him with a spinal injury. Despite his love for the sport, after about 20 years, he noticed he wasn't keeping up with the younger players. He encountered wheelchair fencing soon after.
“I thought it was the stupidest thing in the world,” says Swauger, a resident of Logan. “But I gave it a try and beat everybody. Now look at me.”
Swauger began developing his skills under Lessick Stawicki, the U.S. Paralympic team coach for wheelchair fencing, in Louisville, Kentucky. He dedicated himself to his training, but in late 2017, he experienced an elbow injury. “I couldn't help but think, ‘Am I crazy? Am I going to ruin myself?' Without my arms, I'm really screwed,” Swauger jokes.
He came back more competitive than before, and he made the U.S. Fencing International team in July 2018 when he competed in the Wheelchair Fencing World Cup in Warsaw, Poland. He's now preparing for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan.
Swauger is also working to promote the sport, hoping more fencing clubs will welcome wheelchair athletes. He encourages anyone to try it, explaining that you don't have to be disabled to fence from the chair. For him, just picking up a sabre offered a new way to compete.***
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