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Mariel Zagunis and Ryan Estep Raise More than $2,000 for Wheelchair Fencing

04/23/2011, 12:00pm CDT
By No Author

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Two-time Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis (Beaverton, Ore.) and 2010 Wheelchair World Team member Ryan Estep (Florence, Miss.) raised more than $2,000 for the U.S. Wheelchair Fencing Team on Sunday through a silent auction held during the USA Fencing Division I and Wheelchair National Championships in Portland, Ore.

During the “Blades for Blades” event, fencing fans bid on pieces of fencing and Olympic memorabilia donated by Nike Fencing, Leon Paul,, ProPrintwear and Zagunis herself.

“Most of our events are separate from the wheelchair fencers. I think we’ve only had two World Championships with the wheelchair athletes and, of course, the Paralympics are held after the Olympics, but it’s important to increase awareness and show that wheelchair athletes need our support too,” Zagunis said. “It’s a part of fencing that a lot of people aren’t exposed to. They think fencing and they think of the tournaments they go to, but wheelchair fencers are athletes too and they need our support as well.”

In conjunction with the auction, Zagunis and Estep competed in a series of exhibition wheelchair fencing bouts. Athens Paralympian Sean Shumate (Louisville, Ky.) served as the referee and emcee for the event.

“People told me it was going to be really hard and they were right. It was definitely really hard, but it was really fun and I’m glad a lot of people showed up,” Zagunis said. “The hardest thing is not being able to move and get away when I wanted to. In saber, I’m used to being able to make people fall short, but in the wheelchair you can only go maybe a foot or two back and it was difficult because I feel like I’m pretty fast on my feet and not having that was very hard.”

Several hundred spectators were on hand for the exhibition that included two five-touch bouts in foil, followed by two in saber.

Zagunis and Estep split wins in the bouts with Estep winning the first foil and first saber bouts and Zagunis taking wins in the second bouts.

“It was a lot of fun and I would have loved to win, but it was good to tie. Mariel was a great sport and it was a good exhibition,” Estep said. “She’s a good friend. I’ve known her since Nationals last year and she really shows respect for wheelchair athletes and really makes you feel like you’re just like everyone else. She’s a great athlete, but an even better person.”

In addition to helping raise funds for the wheelchair fencing program, the goal of the “Blades for Blades” exhibition was to expose more people to the Paralympic side of fencing.

“It was really good to help create awareness for the wheelchair team and the response was great,” Estep said. “We’re starting to get a lot more programs going and the best thing for wheelchair fencing is to have demonstrations like this put on by Nike because it really broadens the spectrum of the sport.”

Estep said that his goal is to earn a Paralympic medal for Team USA, but the lessons he has learned through fencing carry over into all aspects of life.

“I’ve done motivational speaking since I’ve been in the chair and one of the things that’s most important for everyone, not just people with a disability, is that you need to wake up with a goal,” Estep said. “When you wake up with a goal and you have a purpose in life, it makes life more fulfilling instead of going through the motions. Because a disabled person can set goals as simple as ‘I want to dress myself’ or like my goal that I want to bring a Paralympic medal back to the United States. And that’s not just true for the disabled community, but for life in general.”

Throughout the remainder of April, Zagunis and Leon Paul will continue to raise funds for the U.S. Wheelchair Fencing Team through the sales of the Zagunis Pro Sabre Blade. All of the proceeds for Zagunis Blades sold during April will be donated to the U.S. Wheelchair Fencing Team. To purchase a blade, visit

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