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Durham University News

News

Durham student selected for Paralympics

(15 May 2012)

Durham University student and wheelchair fencer, Gemma Collis, has been selected to represent Team GB at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

At 19 years old, Gemma will be making her Paralympic debut as part of the Wheelchair Fencing Female Epee Team.

Gemma, who also plays wheelchair basketball, only took up wheelchair fencing when she joined Durham University in October last year and since then has represented Great Britain in the Malchow Wheelchair Fencing World Cup. 

She said: "Shortly after starting my Law degree at Durham University last year, whilst training for basketball, I was approached by Professor Laszlo Jakab, the GB Wheelchair Fencing Head Coach and University Head Coach, who asked me if I'd like to try wheelchair fencing. I tried it and really enjoyed it."

Growing up, Gemma competed at a high level in a number of sports, including triple jump, figure skating and hockey.  In 2008, Gemma got a condition called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy which is a progressive nervous system disease that affects the functioning of the nerves in her right leg, causing altered sensation and extreme pain. Ever since then, Gemma has been on crutches or used a wheelchair.

Gemma, who is a member of St Cuthbert's Society, now combines her sporting career with her Law degree, something she is able to do at Durham, which prides itself on academic excellence combined with opportunities in sport, the arts and volunteering. 

Gemma said: "I feel incredibly proud to have been selected to represent Great Britain at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Competing in the Paralympics is a dream in itself, but getting the opportunity to do so in front of a home crowd should make it all the more special. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and I just can't wait. It's pretty surreal really. When I started fencing six months ago, I never would've thought I'd be in this position now. I can't stop smiling."

Professor Laszlo Jakab, who is the Durham University Fencing Coach and GB Paralympic Fencing Coach, said: "Personally, I am very proud of Gemma's progress. It is not common for someone to get selected for the Paralympics after such a short sport history in fencing. She deserves this because her progress is rapid and promising, she is a very disciplined and committed player, and it is a real pleasure working with her.

"Gemma has great potential and I am sure she will make her country proud in years to come."

In February 2012, the University opened the only world-class standard fencing specific facility in the country with four competition and four practice dedicated fencing pistes and wheelchair fencing frames with coaching led by Professor Laszlo Jakab.

The fencing facility is part of British Fencing's National Academy - Sports Universities North East England (SUNEE) and used by the Regional Fencing Centre - Durham (RFCD), which offers training to all ages and abilities from beginners to elite, supporting fencing throughout the North East. 

The facility at Durham University is also one of four national centres that host British Fencing's National Academy and advanced junior training as part of the national 2020 strategy to produce Olympic podium potential.

The London Paralympics will take place from 29th August until 9th September 2012.

To view Gemma's biography click here.

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