COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — They’ve been a trusted presence at USA Fencing and international tournaments for years, and now, three U.S. referees will take their talents to the highest level of the sport.
This week, World Abilitysport (formerly the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation, or IWAS) announced that Jelena Zeljkovic, Leo Curtis and Sean Shumate have been selected to referee the wheelchair fencing competition at the 2024 Paralympic Games.
Wheelchair fencing competition in Paris will take place Sept. 3–7, 2024, in the architecturally stunning Grand Palais, a historic building located right in the heart of the City of Light.
For fencing referees, there’s no higher honor than an Olympic or Paralympic Games selection, and these three referees are among the best in the world.
Shumate, who competed at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, will referee his fourth Paralympics. Zeljkovic and Curtis will be making their Paralympic refereeing debut.
USA Fencing reached out to each of these skilled referees for more on their stories.
Zeljkovic, from the Philadelphia area and the Zeljkovic Fencing Academy, is refereeing at the Paralympic Games for the first time.
“It is a great honor to be given a chance to participate at the 2024 Paralympics and to be recognized for my skills and hard work,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to work with the best referees in the world and a dream come true.”
Zeljkovic says she wants to thank Jon Moss, Kelly Koehler, Sean Shumate and Sharon Everson for their guidance, trust and the opportunities they’ve provided.
She also wants to express thanks to her fellow referees “for pushing me to become a better referee. And, of course, I’m forever grateful to my husband, Miodrag, and my children, Dusan and Anastasija, for their understanding and tremendous support.”
Curtis, who lives north of Portland, Ore., will be refereeing at his first Paralympics.
But it’s not his first Games experience.
“When I was in high school my school marching band, I had the honor of playing during the Olympic parade at the 1984 Los Angeles Games,” he says.
Curtis says being chosen to referee at the highest level of the sport is an honor beyond words.
“When I was injured in 2004, I thought my life was over,” he says. “I had no direction to my life. I never in a million years would have thought that a short 20 years later, I would be asked to referee the Paralympics.
“It is going to take some time for the shock to wear off, but I am up to the task and going to make us all proud.”
Curtis says he couldn’t have made it to this point alone.
“There are so many people who helped me get to this place — starting with my coaches, Charles Randell and Cody Mattern, and the person who told me that to be a better fencer, I needed to learn to referee: Jon Moss,” Curtis says. “I also want to thank my mentors, Kelly Koehler and Sharon Everson, and fellow parafencing referees, Paul Harris, Sean Shumate, Jelena Zeljkovic and all the other referees I have worked with over the years.”
Shumate, who lives in Kentucky and trains at the Louisville Fencing Center, will be refereeing at his fourth Paralympics. Add in his experience as a fencer at the 2004 Games in Athens, and this will be his fifth Paralympics overall.
“As a member of the U.S. parafencing community, it is an honor to have been chosen to be a referee at the 2024 Paris Paralympics,” Shumate says. “I hope others are able to see that, with hard work and persistence, sometimes dreams come true. I am blessed to have been given this opportunity, and I am looking forward to having a front-row seat to all the action.”
Shumate, like Curtis and Zeljkovic, says he’s grateful for the support of others along his refereeing journey.
“I’d like to give a special thanks to Jon Moss and Sharon Everson for their support and encouragement over the years,” Shumate says. “Their love for the sport directly influenced where I, and many others, are today.”
And what about Olympic referee selections? We’ll share that news with our audience as soon as it’s available.