Four Tamil Nadu fencers share their experience of the 3rd National Wheelchair Fencing Championship, with Akila Kannadasan

They are a determined lot. H. Hema, B. Prabakaran, O. Ramesh and A. Prasad are national fencing champions. The foursome who represented Tamil Nadu (along with Nandakumar from Chennai) in the Third National Wheelchair Fencing Championship held in Bhuvaneshwar from October 22 and 24 are the proud winners of the overall championship trophy. They scooped up a bagful of medals including two gold, four silver and two bronze for the state.

They did all this without the benefit of high-quality equipment or months of rigorous training routines. Twenty-one-year old Ramesh, the youngest of the lot, says, "Fencing was a new word in my vocabulary. A month before the event, I did not even know the rules of the game. The Wheelchair Fencing Association of Tamil Nadu trained us for a day in Chennai. I took down notes of all what was taught and practised hard." Hailing from a village near Annur, Ramesh won a silver and a bronze.

Proud winners

"I've always been interested in sports," begins Prabakaran, winner of two silver medals. "I'm proud of having won laurels for our state in a prestigious national event." The soft-spoken Prasad, a UPS marketer expertly explains the rules of the combat game. "Fencing consists of a total of three events: Foil, Épée and Sabre. Points are awarded based on the number of times a player's sword touches the opponent. The target areas for Sabre are torso, arms and head, while those of Épée are the same, with the exclusion of palms. For Foil, the target is the torso."

Featured in the modern Olympic Games, Fencing is all about speed and strength. The game is a costly affair, a complete Fencing kit consisting of the jacket, mask and sword can cost up to one lakh, says Prasad.

Hema, the only female in the Tamil Nadu contingent struck two golds. She recalls the wheelchair Fencing experience with excitement. "I will never forget those nerve-wracking minutes spent in combat against professional fencers from different parts of India." The twenty-seven year old works at the District Passport Office as an online form-filling assistant.

"There we were, driven by interest in the game and nothing else. We did not have our own swords or the protective clothing. Looking at my opponents all geared up, I lost the little faith I had in myself," recalls Hema. "The weight of the sword felt new to me – I was given one only in the field. But, I was overcome with an urge to win at any cost. For a moment, all I could see was the opponent in front of me. With my mother and friends holding my wheelchair egging me on, I pinned down my opponents one by one" Hema surprised herself by winning two gold medals in the event.

Touche China!

She has now been selected to represent India in the 2010 Asian Para Games to be conducted from December 12 to 19 in Guangzhou, China. "There were difficulties during the trip; there was physical pain. But the medals made it worth it all. I'm a more confident person now. I've realised that my disability is in no way an impediment."

Hema will undergo a rigorous training programme for 20 days in Chennai, according to D. Nagappan, General Secretary of Wheelchair Fencing Association of Tamil Nadu. "She has a lot of potential. We can surely expect a medal or two from her," he says, adding that, "We have approached the Government of India for the sponsorship of her trip."

Despite lack of financial support, proper equipment or a ground to practise on, these sports enthusiasts have taken the initiative to excel in a sporting event that could gain international recognition for our country.

The inspiration

"It's our coach A. Kanniappan who brought us all together. We owe it all to him," says Hema. A professionally trained coach in Paralympic Games, Kanniappan heads the Coimbatore District Differently-abled welfare society. He has also participated in the 2nd Fazaa International Athletics Competition that was held in Dubai earlier this year.

Kanniappan stresses on the necessity of support from the Government.

"There are a lot of differently-abled persons in Coimbatore who are keen on sports. If given proper training, we can do a lot more for our country in the international area," he says.

"It's a shame that we are not recognised for achievements at the national level. We are not encouraged with incentives or jobs through the sports quota. We are not even furnished with sports equipment and necessary training."

Differently-abled sports enthusiasts who wish to train under Kanniappan can reach him at 9994555486.