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Orchards coach works with U.S. parafencing team, aims to grow sport

Justin Meehan of Orion Fencing hosts members of national team at minicamp

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:
8 Photos
Julie Grant of Seattle, left, competes with Ellen Geddes of Aiken, S.C., during a minicamp for the U.S. parafencing team at Orion Fencing in Orchards.
Julie Grant of Seattle, left, competes with Ellen Geddes of Aiken, S.C., during a minicamp for the U.S. parafencing team at Orion Fencing in Orchards. (Photos by Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Justin Meehan likes to say there is no one who can’t fence.

“Our motto is ‘everyone fights, no one quits,’ “ said Meehan, who operates Orion Fencing in Orchards. “It is our goal to make fencing available to everyone.”

In February, Meehan was named to the coaching staff of USA parafencing. Last Thursday, Meehan brought some members of the national team to Orion Fencing for a minicamp in preparation for the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) Wheelchair Fencing World Cup next month in Warsaw.

Ellen Geddes, a member of the US team at the Paralympic Games last year in Tokyo, welcomed the opportunity to fly in from Aiken, S.C. to work with Meehan at Orion Fencing.

“This is just a chance to get to understand each other as coach and athlete and get a better feel about how we can communicate better with each other,” Geddes said.

A former equestrian competitor, Geddes suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident in 2011. While she was rehabbing at a facility in Atlanta, she was introduced to Dennis Asby, a member of the U.S. parafencing team.

“Prior to that, I didn’t even know fencing existed,” Geddes said. “Dennis asked if I’d be interested in doing a sport where I get to stab people, and that appealed to me.”

In wheelchair fencing, competitors used specialized wheelchairs that are anchored to each other which prevents the chairs from tipping over when the athletes lunged at each other to score points.

Geddes was joined at Orion by Julie Grant, an occupational therapist for Lake Washington School District in Seattle.

Grant has been involved in a variety of adaptive sports for more than 20 years from basketball to hand-pedal cycling. She took up wheelchair fencing three years ago.

“I was looking for something that didn’t hurt my body,” Grant said. “I was at this sports camp a few summers ago, and I was talking to someone who suggested I give fencing a try. And that person turned out to be Terry Hayes, who was Ellen’s teammate on the Paralympic fencing team last year.”

Meehan, who has been involved in fencing for 40 years and has been coaching for the last 25, is looking for more athletes to make the transition into parafencing like Geddes and Grant did.

“Since we are hosting the 2028 Games (in Los Angeles) this is a great time for adaptive athletes to find their way into fencing,” Meehan said.

Meehan also hopes his work with the U.S. parafencing team will help entice others to the sport, both to parafencing and traditional fencing.

“We expect to introduce our 1,000th person to fencing this summer at Orion,” Meehan said. “We would have gotten there sooner if not for the pandemic. There is nobody who can’t do fencing. We’ve introduced the sport to kids as young as 4 and our oldest beginner was 93.”

Meehan has helped start fencing programs at Columbia River and Union high schools, and he recently started an outreach program at nearby Sifton Elementary.

“Our biggest challenge in growing the sport of fencing isn’t the cost as we provide beginning fencers with the gear they need,” Meehan said. “And it’s not the danger, because it is not a dangerous sport. Our biggest challenge is finding enough beginner teachers. That’s why we need more people to get involved with the sport who can become beginning teachers.”

In the meantime, Meehan is enjoying his experience teaching the more technical parts of fencing to experienced adaptive athletes.

“I like fencing because I like how it forces you to use your brain,” Grant said. “And it also helps you to calm yourself. Although sometimes I get thinking so much that after practice I can’t sleep because I’m just thinking about all the moves.”

Orion Fencing

What: A non-profit fencing club designed to introduce the sport of fencing to anyone.

Where: 13504 NE 84th Street Suite 109, Orchards

Who: Justin Meehan is the head coach at Orion. He has 40 years of experience in the sport and 25 as a coach.

More info: 360-254-5999 or orionfencing.org

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