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EN GARDE! A painful lesson in the sport of wheelchair fencing.

Byline: JONNY GREATREX ;HELEN PERKINS

He's abseiled from the roof of the Sunday Mercury office, hurtled down an Italian ice track with the British bobsleigh team and even risked a makeover at a Midland shopping centre.

Now reporter Jonny Greatrex, aka Jonny Dangerous, gets a lesson in wheelchair fencing from Britain's number one..

AS I peer through the thick gauze of my head-guard, I can just about make-out the shape of Simon Wilson waving his epee sword at me.

The worrying thing is that this 50-yearold is the best in country at what he does - wheelchair fencing.

Now he's going to give me a lesson in this little-known sport and then see how much I can remember as we have a DUEL.

Simon, from Nottingham, explains the easiest way to score a point is to hit the part of your opponent nearest to you as, unlike Olympic fencing, any blow landed counts.

He holds his epee to one side, exposing his wrist, and tells me to hit him.

Sounds easy enough and I go for it by leaning almost completely out of my wheelchair and thrusting at his arm. But the result is I miss entirely, nearly toppling out of my seat.

This is going to be harder than I imagined...

Simon has been competing at this sport for two years.

Before that he took part in able-bodied competitions for seven-years using a prosthetic limb he has needed since a boneeating disease caused his left leg to be amputated as a young boy.

But it took a lot of convincing before he was prepared to try the wheelchair version of the sport, in which he now hopes to represent Britain at the 2012 London Paralympics.

"A Great Britain coach approached me and said, 'would you be offended if I said you should try the wheelchair version?'," said Simon, who is a parts manager at a car shop, "He told me my hand-speed was great but I would never be any good because of my lack of mobility.

"He was right and after about six months I gave it a go." Simon was certainly ready to "give it a go" with me.

Any part of the torso, head and arms are considered fair game in wheelchair fencing.

You can even hit your opponent's chair if the earthed mat which covers it should slip.

The victor is the first to 15 points or the person with the highest score after three minutes.

The Midlander patiently dangles his arm while I attempt to make contact with his sleeve.

A sensor on the end of the weapon will beep if 750g of pressure is put on it - the amount needed to draw blood in an actual sword- fight.

Eventually, I listen to my mentor's advice and make considered movements, rather than swishing wildly at my target. This pays off as my part of the electronic scoreboard fi- nally lights up.

With the basics of attacking mastered, it was now time to learn how to defend myself.

You can do this either by knocking your foe's blade away, or rolling your sword around it to blunt their attack which allows you to score a point by hitting them at the same time.

Of the two, simply hitting Simon's weapon with mine as he comes towards me seems the more efficient.

He goes easy at first, giving me the chance to get used to having someone trying to attack me with a blade.

But slowly Simon picks off my exposed wrist or forearm to take a 3-0 lead.

My tactic of trying to hit the nearest bit of him to me is failing, as he holds his epee in such a way that his arm is not visible behind the sword guard.

I decide to go for a dramatic lunge at his head - which coincidentally is the same move my opponent goes for.

There is a solid thunk as my head is rocked back by his blow which would have landed square between my eyes if it had not been for the protective gear.

I do manage to get six lucky hits on the British number one. But in a little under two minutes, Simon has amassed the score of 15 needed to claim what must rank as his easiest ever victory.

. To see the wheelchair fencing clash visit www.sundaymercury jonny.greatrex@ sundaymercury.net.net

WHEELCHAIR FENCING: THE FACTS The event was introduced by Sir Ludwig Guttmann at the 1953 Stoke International Games and was part of the programme for the first Paralympic Games in Rome 1960.

The sport has long been popular in Europe, but it wasn't until the turn of the 1970s that its popularity spread to North America and Asia.

Wheelchair fencing will feature at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, where more than one million visitors are expected.

Even though the capital is set to stage its third Olympics, it will be its first Paralympics, as the event was created after the last time the city hosted in 1948..

CAPTION(S):

Jonny Dangerous feels the full force of a blow from Simon Wilson (left).
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 7, 2009
Words:853
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