USA’s Jensen plays the long game


After the opening World Cup of 2020, wheelchair fencers from the Americas are heading back home to prepare for their next major challenge - the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) Wheelchair Fencing Americas Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

By Alison Thompson | For IWAS

The competition will directly follow the next World Cup, also in Sao Paulo, from 11-14 March. It is a key stop on the road to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

For teenager Shelby Jensen, currently ranked as the USA’s top sabre wheelchair fencer, positivity, preparation and putting learned experience into practice is key:

“I try to go into competitions with a positive attitude and I feel pretty good ahead of Sao Paulo. I’ve been living and training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado trying to improve my game with lessons and bouting”.

Having only started in the sport three years ago, Jensen has been quick to make her mark and already reached the podium at her first Americas Championships in 2018.

She will be looking to improve on her bronze from the women’s foil category A and silver in sabre this year.

Shelby Jensen poses with her teammate
Shelby Jensen (far right) is one of the USA’s best wheelchair fencers. Credit: Augusto Bizzi

The journey

Jensen was seven years old when a brain aneurysm caused a stroke and left her slightly paralysed on her right side.

The American’s journey into the sport as a teenager came about due to a chance encounter: “I was volunteering at a wheelchair sports camp when I was 15. One of the sports was wheelchair fencing. The foundation running the camp noticed my leg brace and said I had to come try it. A couple of months later I did and it didn’t take me long to realise that this was my sport. I am lucky that the Utah Fencing Foundation has made it easy for me to find and do something I love.”

Although competing in all three weapons, the now 19-year-old explains her preferences: “I like epee because there’s things I don’t have to worry about like right of way or off targets. It is a good weapon for a teenager who doesn’t like rules,” she said with a smile.

“But I also like sabre because it’s the weapon that got me into the sport and it is fast and furious.”

Her notable success and ranking in just three short years has meant a steep learning curve for Jensen. “It feels good to be the top ranked wheelchair fencer [from the USA], but the pressure is on to keep my ranking. There are so many strong and amazing women in this sport and I try to learn from those who beat me and hope it improves my game.”

In addition to learning from competing, Jensen is studying sport and psychology and is hoping to convert that learning onto the field of play.

Working one-on-one with a sports psychologist is also helping her be fully prepared:

“I’m ready for Brazil, but anytime you win a medal there is more pressure on you to keep that up. Going into the competitions my ambition is just to do better than I did the year before. If I can improve my standing at the World Cup and medal at zonals that would make me happy”.

And Jensen is already thinking of the long game:

“I want to make it to Tokyo 2020 and after that I want to help grow the sport in the USA. And of course, the 2024 and 2028 Paralympics are definitely on the radar.”

The 2020 IWAS Wheelchair Fencing World Cup will take place on 11-14 March. It will be followed by the Americas Championships from 15-18 March.

Both competitions offer fencers one of the last chances to gain world ranking points which go towards qualification for Tokyo 2020.