A fencing club in Maplewood, N.J., offers what are considered to be the only wheelchair fencing classes for young people in the Northeast.
The New Jersey Fencing Alliance is run by Mickey Zeljkovic, a coach to Tariq al Qallaf, an adult world-champion wheelchair fencer. Zeljkovic, who is Serbian, trains a handful of young people in the program, which began in May.
According to The New York Times, at the club’s headquarters, essentially a 17,500-square-foot room that holds 200 able-bodied competitors some weekends, the wheelchairs are secured to brackets that keep them from moving. Each bracket costs up to $8,000 and positions the duelers an appropriate distance from each other (determined by the fencer with the shorter reach).
There are now only 27 wheelchair athletes in the United States Fencing Association, so the staff at the club believes there is ample opportunity for young people who start now to reach national-level competitions and even the Paralympic Games. Fencers have conditions like spina bifida and cerebral palsy, as well as spinal cord injuries, and many are referred to the program by nearby hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
The club has plans to raise money so the group of wheelchair fencers can compete in the Summer National Championships in Atlanta in July.