A comeback and a rising star: Inside the U.S. wheelchair fencing team

Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 1:44 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Athletes all over the country are working to make Team USA for the 2024 Olympic Games. Others are also working toward a spot in the 2024 Paralympic Games. For a group of American wheelchair fencers, that journey began at a tournament near Washington, D.C. in January.

Scott Rodgers is the last American wheelchair fencer to medal in a Paralympics, taking bronze in 2004. After nearly a decade away, Rodgers is trying to make a comeback and wants to compete in the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games.

Rodgers said, “Can I come back and really do this? And that’s been the harder part because my ego sees myself probably far better than I was back in ‘04.”

Rodgers says this time around is not just about personal goals as the U.S. fencing program tries to build up its roster for the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.

Rodgers said, “My secondary goal is being kind of one of the senior guys on the team is really to kind of mentor the next generation.”

Part of the next generation on the women’s side is Jataya Taylor. She has been fencing for just six months, and is now a rising star who has potential for the 2024 Paris games and 2028 Los Angeles Paralympic Games.

Taylor said, “I’m shooting for Paris if I don’t make it, I understand because I’m really new. But that is my goal.”

For both Rodgers and Taylor wheelchair fencing goes beyond representing the U.S. in competition. Taylor says she thought she’d represent the country as a career Marine, but training accidents derailed that goal. She says she found wheelchair fencing through the VA near her home in Colorado.

Taylor said, “For me it was a lifesaver. My mental health was horrible and just getting out and trying new things is what brought me back from the edge.”

Rodgers said, “We all have a disability. None of us nobody here is disabled. Everybody here is out fighting and doing things. They may do it differently than other people, but they’re out there fighting. They’re not disabled.”

Rodgers and Taylor won’t know until next Spring whether they’ll represent the U.S. at the 2024 Paralympic Games. Both say they’re hoping to see more adaptive athletes try wheelchair fencing because they want to see the sport grow.

USA Fencing CEO Phil Andrews said, “We were so thrilled to have the chance to host the best parafencers in the world — and to give the members of Team USA the experience of fencing against Paralympians and world champions. Equally important was the opportunity to introduce new people to parafencing by shining a big spotlight on our amazing adaptive athletes. That’s especially important with the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympics just five years away. We want to continue to grow the sport and open new doors for everyone.”