En Garde! The Sport of Fencing and Hydrocephalus

Johnathan in 2016

By Johnathan Collins, Guest Blogger

My name is Jonathan Collins and I am 26 years old. I was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and I have had multiple surgeries and several periods of ill health.

In 2004, an undiagnosed shunt failure left me with poor sight due to the pressure on my optic nerves. I am also wheelchair dependent.

I attended the local school in Selsey Bill, West Sussex, in the United Kingdom, and I wasn’t encouraged to do any sports. I tried Boccia at a club 30 miles away, but I was the youngest by at least 50 years! I also went to some “sports taster sessions,” but did not find something I was interested in trying. 

A weekly trip to a swimming pool became my only form of activity. Unfortunately, this became impossible after another period of ill health.

After leaving school I went to a college 10 miles away in Chichester, and after that I did some voluntary work, but still NO SPORTS.

I enjoy watching sports on television, especially football (soccer), rugby and athletics. I have been a Manchester United fanatic since childhood and I volunteer at the famous Mary Rose Museum.

Both of 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.

A year ago I realized I was comfort eating, and I needed to do something about my weight. I went on a diet and started eating better and I have lost 40 pounds. I look better, feel fitter, and enjoy life more.

It was great news when I was told there was a Fencing club that accepted wheelchair users only 10 miles away. It had been running sometime but I didn’t know it existed. I went along and met my trainer, 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 favorite weapon is the sabre, but I also do the foil. 

Viv points out my mistakes, shows me how to correct them, explains new things, but is always full of encouragement so I look forward to every session. Fencing has given me my confidence back. I have been to some of the training camps that the Great Britain team attend.

I have met some of our top fencers and have even fought against some of them. I am looking forward to the 2017 training camps.

Fencing has made a great impact on my life.

I encourage you to look for activities that are fun and interesting and perhaps a little out of the ‘norm’ for you. Don’t let your hydrocephalus, or anything else, stop you from trying something new, exploring a part of yourself that you haven’t met yet and challenging yourself to be your best.

This is me on the right with my trainer, Viv Mills, on the left, at one of our Friday night training sessions at the Chichester High School for Girls where the Chichester Fencing Club is located.