Dei Rossi flying high ahead of home World Championships
In 2022 Matteo Dei Rossi became the first qualified Italian aerobatic pilot with a disability.
Now the 28-year-old is targeting a different kind of history: to join the long line of fencers from his country who have won a World Championships medal.
From 3-8 October the Italian city of Terni will stage the 2023 Worlds. The nation is one of the strongest in the history of wheelchair fencing and has hosted the competition before. There are a number of athletes who have reached the same heights that Dei Rossi is now targeting: Double Paralympic champion Beatrice Vio-Grandis to name one.
But Italy keeps producing talent. Dei Rossi is one of the latest to show his potential. Multiple podium finishes have filled his trophy cabinet for the last two seasons, culminating in his first World Cup gold in Busan, South Korea, just a few weeks ago in the men’s epee category A.
Now 28, Dei Rossi began fencing as an able-bodied athlete at the age of 12. However he was advised to stop fencing altogether after an injury to his shoulder. A stroke of luck meant he met a maestro who told him about wheelchair fencing.
In 2014 his international career began. Since then Dei Rossi has been working year-in-year-out to grow and improve. In 2022 his senior breakthrough came and he has carried that form into 2023.
“The change I think was mainly mental, Dei Rossi said. “An athlete in addition to curing their body and preparing technically, mind and concentration for me is more important. I think that to become a complete athlete you have to find the right psycho-physical balance that can be the formula to win competitions. I always look for references that can make me feel calm to face life first and then apply it to sport.”
Of his win in Busan, Dei Rossi continued: “I can say that I had a different, strange feeling and as if I felt lighter, the emotion was so many, I didn’t know what to think but the most beautiful thing was to hear the national anthem and sing it with my second family, the Italian team. Maybe from there I realised that I had achieved a great goal.”
Now a top 10 ranked athlete in both the epee and sabre, Dei Rossi has claimed his place amongst a strong field of competitors. He says he is “in love” with both weapons equally. Epee, he says, was his first but the sabre “is more adrenaline and gives me the opportunity to confront more directly with opponents.”
Facing his competitors head-on is certainly something that the Italian is planning to do in Terni. It will be his third World Championships and he is preparing thoroughly for it mentally and physically:
“I think it is the goal of all to get on the top step or at least to podium, and I am no less this. Beyond the Paralympics, is the hardest competition where all participating athletes will fight with body and soul to get to the top, and I will certainly not be outdone.”
As well as the medals on offer, Terni 2023 is the biggest chance so far to grab qualification points for the Paris 2024 Paralympics.
Dei Rossi is taking nothing for granted here and does not want to tempt fate by being confident of getting a ticket to his first Games: “It would be nice to get there and I certainly will not stop the dedication. I don’t want to unbalance myself. Surely if that chance comes I would fight body and soul to take it.”
For now, there are the final preparations to make for the World Championships:
“I only do one thing in the days before the competitions: I go to fly on a plane. Every time I face a competition I allow myself a liberating flight in the blue sky.
“I’m cultivating this passion that was born when I was a child, and I hope that one day it will become my job. In 2021 I managed to reach my dream to become the second disabled pilot in general aviation in Italy and in May 2022 I managed to become the first aerobatic pilot in Italy with disabilities.
“Now my goals are two, to get to Paris  and give my best after years of hard work with fencing. I know it will be a difficult challenge. I will do my best to make this my dream come true.”
The 2023 Wheelchair Fencing World Championships will be broadcast live from Terni at wheelchair fencing’s website between 3-8 October. Live results will also be available, alongside photographs for editorial use.
Fencers from around the world will compete across men’s and women’s epee, foil and sabre category A, B and C as well as team events.
Competition begins on Tuesday (3 October) with the women’s sabre and men’s foil.