COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The opportunity of a lifetime simply came about via a plea on Facebook looking for like-minded adventurers to cycle across Africa. While parafencer Jay Taylor (Denver Fencing Center) was open to the adventure, she couldn’t have predicted that her passion for the sport would pave roads for a new generation of adaptive athletics.
The Facebook message was simple: cycle across Africa. A fellow military veteran in the adaptive sports world approached Taylor, saying, “Hey, there is this thing on Facebook talking about riding across Africa – that’s totally you!”
This was Taylor’s introduction to Bidii Yetu, a group whose name means “our resilience” in Kiswahili. The longest handcycling event in the world, the ride crosses five countries in southern Africa over 50 days, covering more than 2,000 miles.
After joining Bidii Yetu, her goal quickly grew from simply enjoying the adventure to creating visibility and educating about disability, specifically in cycling and fencing. Taylor’s message and passion spread quickly, and a representative from the Wheelchair Users Association of Namibia asked her to provide a fencing demo during her trip in hopes it would help the committee form a team in the future.
To fuel those dreams, Taylor partnered with the Denver Fencing Foundation (DFF) to create memorable wheelchair fencing demonstration while on the continent. DFF sent Taylor with “a whole bunch of equipment to take, to donate” to the Wheelchair Users Association of Namibia, setting up that nation for a future that hopefully includes parafencing.
As Taylor began the ride, fencing was not at the front of mind. But as the miles rolled by, she discovered that her mindset while cycling provided more connections to her sport than she was expecting.
“One day at a time, one crank at a time,” she says. “And then you go fence and it’s one competition at a time.”
Worried that she had taken too much time off of fencing, Taylor came back stronger than ever after riding solely using her arms on a hand bike, realizing that a lot of the strength gained on the trip would “translate back into fencing one way or another.”
With all these miles behind her, Taylor knows she has the strength and resilience for many more. Taylor is now looking forward to making her dreams come true in wheelchair fencing as she sets her sights on competing at the Paralympics in Paris 2024 and LA 2028.
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