Durham student to compete in Paralympic Games
St Cuthbert’s Society student, Gemma Collis, has been selected to represent Great Britain at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Gemma, who was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) three and a half years ago, has been selected to represent the nation in wheelchair fencing, despite only starting the sport six months ago. The first year Law student came second in the Women’s Category A Epee at the 8th Challenge International des Joinvillais, an annual fencing competition, and is also due to represent Great Britain at the Lonato Wheelchair Fencing World Cup this May.
Combining her sporting commitments with academic work can be “quite challenging… I have to use my time efficiently”.
As Gemma was away at a world cup event over some of her exams, she will have to sit three papers in August whilst in the holding camp at Bath.
Before Gemma was diagnosed with RSD, a progressive nervous system disease that affects the functioning of nerves in her right leg, she competed at a high level in a number of sports. She figure skated at National Level until aged 11, but most notably was in training for London 2012 to represent the nation at Triple Jump, for which she was double County champion in Buckinghamshire.
Gemma believes that her able-bodied sports have given her the mental strength and sports psychology skills that are transferable to fencing, as well as a basic level of fitness.
However, reaching national standard in a sport after just six months of training could lead to questions concerning the standard of Paralympic sport, although Gemma refutes these.
“I train as much for this as I ever did for an able-bodied sport; you have to be able to do the same stuff.
“There are less people competing in Paralympic sports, so there are less people at the top level – around 30 entries for women and 50 for men – but at the top, it really is like an elite sport. There were incredible athletes at the world cup event”.
Gemma also plays wheelchair basketball and was selected to represent Wales u25s at the 2011 Celtic Cup after playing for just nine months. However, owing to the heightened popularity of the sport, Gemma is not able to compete at the same level as with fencing.
Initially Gemma was apprehensive about Wheelchair Fencing, when her coach, GB Wheelchair Fencing Head Coach and University Head Coach, Laszlo Jakab, approached her.
“I was not sure about it when Laszlo first came up to me because I’d be strapped to a frame, unable to move, and wouldn’t have that physical element that I like about basketball.
“But it’s very fast and can be so aggressive – it’s almost like a physical version of chess because you have to think so fast about what your opponents going to do.
“I really like the mental and physical aspects that it combines”.
The facilities at Maiden Castle where Gemma trains are world-class. There are four competition and four practice fencing pistes, plus wheelchair fencing frames, making Durham one of four national centres that host British Fencing’s National Academy and advanced junior training, which aim to produce Olympic podium potential.