THE EARLY YEARS
Wheelchair fencing was first introduced in England in 1953 by Sir Ludwig Guttmann. The primary focus at that time was to provide war veterans an opportunity to regain strength and coordination, espouse espirit de corps and foster self-esteem.
It wasn’t long before it was introduced and became a part of the first formalized international disability games, Stokes-Mandeville in 1955. Sabre was the only weapon at those first games and the first fencer to score a touch, basically won the bout. The French proposed to use the rules from the FIE, (Federation of International Fencing) which were adapted at the first paralympic games in Rome, Italy in 1960.
At the second paralympic games in Tokyo, Japan, in 1964, the first American team competed and won a silver medal in the women’s team foil event. It wasn’t until the Athens games in 2004 that the US would medal again, this time in men’s B individual epee. Scott Rodgers earned a bronze medal.
DEVELOPMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
In the fall of 1993, the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee asked Bill Murphy to start a wheelchair fencing program at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. There were no wheelchair fencing programs in America and Paralympic Organizers saw it as their mission to encourage the development of a US Paralympic Fencing Team to participate in the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games. In April of 1994 Murphy worked with the administrators of the Shepherd Center to create a wheelchair fencing program, which he coached.
Shortly after starting the program at Shepherd, Murphy met Maestro Leszek Stawicki who was attending an able bodied fencing camp in Atlanta. The two quickly became friends and worked together to develop the sport during its formative years. Maestro Stawicki started a wheelchair fencing program at his club, the Louisville Fencing Center. The US wheelchair fencing program received a great deal of support from everyone involved and athletes began training for the US Paralympic Fencing Team. Stawicki went on to become the national coach for wheelchair fencing and Murphy went on to become the fencing competition manager for the 1996 Paralympic Games