Me and My Sport: Fencing changed my life

Welcome to a new Observer series in which we give you the chance to tell readers about your sport and what makes it enjoyable. The first to take part is wheelchair-dependent fencer Jonathan Collins

Monday, 22nd January 2018, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 2:29 am
Jonathan Collins says his sport has changed his life

I am 27 years old. I was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and I have had several periods of ill health. In 2004 an undiagnosed shunt failure left me with poor sight. I am wheelchair dependent.

I attended the local mainstream school and wasn’t encouraged to do any sport. I tried boccia (a type of bowls) at a club 30 miles away, but I was the youngest by at least 50 years! That did not last long. I also went to some ‘sports taster sessions’ but nothing was worth pursuing.

A weekly trip to a swimming pool became my only form of activity. Unfortunately this came to an end when another health issue occurred.

When I left the local school I went to Chichester College ten miles away and after that I did some voluntary work, but still NO SPORT.

I enjoyed watching sport on television, especially football, rugby and athletics. I have been a Manchester United fanatic since childhood and I am a volunteer at the famous Mary Rose Museum.

Both these things gave me something to focus on but they did not require much exercise so I started to put weight on. I needed to do something extra.

It was great news when I was told there was a fencing club that accepted wheelchair users and it was only ten miles away.

It had been running for some time at the Chichester High School on a Friday evening but I didn’t know it existed. I went along and met my trainer, former GB wheelchair fencer Viv Mills, who is well-known in the fencing world.

Viv is very patient and understanding but she expects me to do my best and put up a good fight.

My favourite weapon is the sabre but I also fence with the foil.

Viv points out my mistakes, shows me how to correct them and explains new things but is always full of encouragement so I look forward to every session.

Fencing has given me my confidence back. I’ve also been to some of the training camps the Great Britain wheelchair fencing team attend.

I’ve met some of our top fencers and have even fought against some of them. Last year I attended t training camps with the GB wheelchair fencing team.

Fencing has made a great impact on my life. It made me aware I was overweight so I did something about it. I have lost three stone and I feel a lot fitter and look a lot thinner (and am much poorer as I needed a whole new wardrobe of clothes!).

I have made a lot of new friends and I feel a lot happier.

I also received my first-ever wheelchair fencing medal last July for attending the Chichester Fencing Club for five years and improving my fencing skills.

You don’t have to be at the top to enjoy fencing. It’s great at all levels.

* Find out more about Jonathan and his fencing at or on Twitter – @Jonatha56744262 or Instagram – or Youtube – (search ‘wheelchair fencer Jonathan Collins).

* Want to feature in our new ‘Me and My Sport’ feature? Write up to 500 words outlining what you play and why. Email it with a picture to [email protected]