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From Paris to Los Angeles — Inside USA Fencing’s Plan to Grow and Develop Parafencing

07/09/2024, 8:00am CDT
By Bryan Wendell

Even as we prepare to cheer on all six athletes heading to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 to compete in parafencing (known at the Games as wheelchair fencing), USA Fencing is already daydreaming about Los Angeles 2028.

The U.S. Women's Epee team at the Zonal Championships in Brazil. Photo by Nicole Kirk.

Even as we prepare to cheer on all six athletes heading to the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 to compete in parafencing (known at the Games as wheelchair fencing), USA Fencing is already daydreaming about Los Angeles 2028.

We see the LA Games as an ideal chance to launch parafencing into a new level of notoriety and success, opening the door for many more parafencers — whether they have Paralympic dreams or just want to compete in a fun, challenging and community-based sport.

Strengthening the Foundation

One of the biggest changes for parafencing in the 2024-25 season is the introduction of a domestic classification process. This new system, which aligns with the U.S. Paralympics National Classification Policies & Procedures, will help ensure that all athletes are properly classified and ready to compete. 

To get classified, athletes will submit medical documentation through their USA Fencing membership portal and then undergo an in-person evaluation at national events.

“Implementing a domestic classification process is a crucial step in developing our sport within the United States,” says Beth Mahr, who leads Team USA’s parafencing squad. “It ensures integrity in the sport and lays a strong foundation for parafencing to build on as see more athletes compete domestically..”

Building the Pipeline

As we set our sights on LA 2028, USA Fencing is excited to launch the Parafencing Pipeline. (See the full criteria on our Para National Team page.) This initiative will categorize athletes into four groups: Elite, Emerging, Development and Recreational. Athletes will be evaluated at a camp in October 2024 in Colorado Springs, where their performances and the past season's results will determine their placement within the pipeline.

Elite athletes will have performance criteria, primarily based on international results, to earn the National Team designation. With this, athletes will also have access to USOPC athlete services and tailored training and support throughout the season. 

Emerging athletes, who are on the path to earning a spot on the National Team, must show promise with consistent domestic and international results. The parafencing program will also have targeted training and athlete support to help propel these athletes to the next level.

For athletes in the Development category, the focus is on competitive growth at the national level, with an emphasis on seeking opportunities for parafencing training with coaches. These athletes are encouraged to participate in local, regional and national competitions. 

Meanwhile, the Recreational category welcomes those who enjoy the sport for fun, community and fitness, without the pressure of performance expectations. Recreational athletes may still participate in local and regional competitions, including North American Cups (NACs), if they wish.

“Creating a structured pipeline allows us to nurture talent from the ground up,” Mahr says. “It ensures that we are developing and supporting athletes at every level, from those just starting to our top competitors aiming for Paralympic success.”

Coaching and Competitions

As we look toward LA28, we’re also thinking about the people who will lead us there. USA Fencing is opening applications for the Parafencing National Team Head Coach position for the 2024-25 season and beyond. 

Applications open on Aug. 5 and close on Sept. 13; coaches interested in applying should watch USA Fencing’s social media for the application link.

We’re also thinking about recruiting and developing parafencing referees, too — as outlined in our 2024-28 Strategic Plan.

Starting in the 2024-25 season, USA Fencing is also rolling out a Regional Para Circuit (RPC) as part of our competition structure. You might already have seen some of these events on our Regional Tournament Calendar.

This circuit will provide more sanctioned competition opportunities for parafencing athletes, making it easier for them to compete closer to home and offering a welcoming environment for newcomers. Plus, parafencers will now have the chance to earn fencing classifications at national events, further integrating them into the broader competitive framework.

The Road Ahead

With these developments, it’s clear that the growth and development of parafencing are a top priority for USA Fencing. As LA28 nears, these changes aim to provide a robust support system for athletes, from grassroots to elite levels, ensuring that U.S. parafencers are well-prepared for the biggest stage.

"These are exciting times for parafencing," says USA Fencing CEO Phil Andrews. "With these new structures in place, we are confident that we can build a strong, competitive and inclusive community that will thrive on the world stage."

Tag(s): Updates