Lauryn DeLuca is a straight-A student and plays percussion in her high school band. She’s also an avid fencer, and a very good fencer, ranking incredibly high — actually, she’s number one for both “epee” and “foil,” two subdivisions of the sport. But there’s one thing that sets Lauryn apart from many other fencers around the world, and that’s the fact that she’s in a wheelchair.
Lauryn wasn’t always in a wheelchair, but she was born with cerebral palsy. At first, she was still able to do everything she loved without the assistance of a wheelchair, and that included fencing. But soon, she found that she wasn’t performing as well in competitions and knew she could do better.
“I was competing, and I was getting more tired,” she explained to the New York Times. “I wasn’t really able to perform … at my best ability.” After a particularly tough time at the 2012 National Championships, Lauryn realized that all her hard work “wasn’t going to be worth it in the end,” and that’s when her parents suggested something else: the wheelchair track for the sport.
At first, her parents, Tracy and Steve DeLuca, were worried that Lauryn wouldn’t take well to the suggestion, since she had never used a wheelchair before, and was perfectly fine to get around without one. But if she were to succeed in fencing, she was going to need one. Lauryn quickly caught on to the changes in wheelchair fencing and now she’s already set her sights on the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, which will take place shortly after the Olympics conclude.
“She’s really dedicated,” her coach, Nick Arlington, explained. “She comes in almost every night of the week that [the fencing club is] open, and wants to work hard. This summer, she had a back injury, and even though she’s not supposed to be getting back into it, she’s chomping at the bit to still be coming every single day and working hard. She’s very fast, and she is very competitive. She really, really wants to win.”
We really want to see Lauryn win, too. Wheelchair fencing is just like regular fencing, except for the fact that the participants sit completely stationary in wheelchairs. “[Competitors] are very close, relative to one another, so it does require a lot faster reflexes,” Arlington continued. “The action is a lot faster paced, because you can’t really back up from the person you’re fencing. You’re right there all the time, and so you have to rely on those reflexes.”
However, even though Lauryn excels at the sport and has already won her fair share of titles, it’s still going to be a long road to the Paralympics. She’s not only got to raise enough money for it (and hopefully a GoFundMe will help) but also qualify for the U.S. team. But if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Lauryn who’s got new strength and dedication when it comes to the sport. Wheelchair fencing has also helped her accept her disability.
“Growing up with a disability, I was insecure about it,” she said. “Being in the wheelchair, I embraced that yes, I am disabled.”
We love her attitude and her spirit. We’ll definitely keep an eye out for her at next year’s Paralympics, where we know she’s totally going to crush it.