Pick up your sword and fight for your country – it’s an offer that Brandon’s Joey Brinson couldn’t refuse.
This May, the 32-year-old will join the U.S. wheelchair fencing team for the World Cup competition in Montreal, Canada. And he’s hoping to parlay the experience into a slot in the 2012 Paralympics in London.
“I’m a wheelchair athlete and that’s the goal of a lot of athletes – to represent their country,” says Brinson, a paraplegic since age 17. “I’m just happy to get the shot.”
Brinson was introduced to the sport in 2006, when Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson added wheelchair fencing to its adaptive sports program. In 2007, he became one of the founding members of the Blade Rollers, a MRC fencing team that is enjoying a banner year.
The Blade Rollers recently brought home nine medals from the North American Cup in Atlanta. (Brinson earned a silver and two bronze.) And through a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, Brinson and his teammates are helping stage wheelchair fencing clinics across the state. Other members of the team include Sonia Fogal and DeJuan Surrell of Jackson, Robert Donerson of Vaughn, Randy Lavender of Tupelo and Harlan Fredrickson of Ridgeland.
Ginny Boydston, director of Methodist Rehab’s therapeutic recreation program, says fencing is suitable for a wide variety of wheelchair users – including amputees, paraplegics and some quadriplegics.
During a bout, competitors lock their wheelchairs into metal frames and fence at an arm’s length distance from a seated position. The fencer with the shortest arms decides whether the playing area will be at his distance or his opponent’s. Scoring is done electronically, and points are awarded when the weapon touches a specific target area.
"In some ways, wheelchair fencing is faster and more intense," says Richard Jones of Central Mississippi Fencing, a volunteer coach for the Blade Rollers. "Able-bodied fencers use their feet to gain distance from an attack, while wheelchair fencers are confined in a chair within reach of their opponents. It’s a close in-fighting position and that ups the intensity."
That intensity initially drew Brinson to the sport. But he has come to appreciate the finer points of swordplay. “I am learning that it is more about finesse than power,” he says. “You’ve got to think about it, and your reflexes have to be top scale. You have to have a goal in mind and be patient to reach that goal.”
“The strategies that you use are both physical and mental,” Boydston said. “The more skills you learn, the more intricate the strategies become.”
Brinson believes he’s the first Mississippian to make the national fencing team, and he says the opportunity should make him a better swordsman. “You gain experience through tournaments, and that’s why I’m so excited about going on to the international level. It’s a good way to learn.”