Para Fencing Found Ellen Geddes, And She Grabbed The Sport By The Reins

by Bob Reinert

Ellen Geddes competes in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 26, 2021 in Tokyo.


Ellen Geddes was recovering from a broken back suffered in a 2011 auto accident when she discovered the sport of wheelchair fencing.


“I ran into fencing kind of happenstance,” Geddes recalled.


She was at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta doing spinal cord injury rehab when she learned of a fencing team there.


“Their team captain asked me if I thought it would be fun to stab people,” Geddes said, “and here we are.”


Eleven years later, the 34-year-old is among the world’s top Para fencers wielding an epee or foil. She was No. 1 in the U.S. in both disciplines in 2021. Not bad for a former equestrienne who had never picked up either weapon before her accident.


“I enjoyed it enough to continue working on it,” Geddes said. “I started fencing in 2012, and it’s taken me quite a while to be successful internationally. It definitely is a skill-intensive sport. I took to it well enough to stick with it.”


Geddes, a 2020 U.S. Paralympian from Aiken, South Carolina, is amid her best season in the sport. To date in 2022, she has collected a combined 10 individual and team medals in zonal and world cup competitions in category B, which includes athletes who have an impairment that affects their trunk or their fencing arm.


“It’s been a very good season,” she said. “I put in quite a bit of work. I’m happy that it’s paying off.”


At a Nov. 17-20 world cup event in Eger, Hungary, Geddes earned a bronze medal in foil.


“I was very close to getting into the medal round in epee and then one touch out of being in the finals in foil,” Geddes said. “I was happy with my results but certainly felt like I could have done better.


“Overall, it was a good experience. It was a good first world cup for the qualification for (Paralympic Games Paris 2024), put me in a good position moving forward.”


Geddes will look to build on her Paralympic performances last year in Tokyo, where she was seventh in epee team, eighth in foil team, 10th in individual foil and 11th in individual epee.


“I certainly have a goal of medaling at the Paris Games,” she said. “Where everything sits now, I am planning on … continuing fencing and fencing for LA (in 2028). But I do continually reserve the right to change my mind on that, though.”

Ellen Geddes lunges in an attempt to score a point during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 26, 2021 in Tokyo.


To stay sharp, Geddes trains a lot on her own these days.


“I have a fencing (setup) in my house,” she said. “I do body work, movement on my own, daily. I include some bouting with fellow athletes.”


Geddes pointed out that she tries to fence with other category B athletes rather than able-bodied athletes sitting in a wheelchair because the timing is different when facing a disabled fencer.


“It is almost to my detriment,” said Geddes of facing off against able-bodied fencers.


Timing can be tricky for training in general, too.


Geddes must fit her workouts around her duties as co-owner and facility manager at Bridlewood Farm and Maplewood Farm in South Carolina, where she breeds and boards horses.


“There are certainly times when I don’t think that it really works,” she said of balancing the two parts of her life. “But I have a very understanding and capable partner and all of that. I’m not sure I know what downtime is.


“We are trying to breed horses for the upper levels of sport. That is like the main goal. Within that, we also have client horses and a lot of boarders that are kind of trying to offset our main goal of breeding.”


Geddes concedes that competing in the sport at this level can take its toll on her. The sport can be hard on her shoulder, for example. But the future still looks bright, and she is overall feeling good physically.


“I have a very good physical therapist, and then we have a good sports medicine person that travels with us to competitions,” she said.


It wasn’t long ago that Geddes had never picked up a fencing sword. Now she’s one of the best in the world.

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.