Johnston resident Ellen Geddes has been an equestrian for most of her life and is now turning heads as a fencer, despite having suffered a life-threatening injury that cost her the use of her legs.
In the world of wheelchair-based fencing, the 2006 graduate of Aiken High School is the United States' top-ranked woman in both two types of combat: foil and epee. “I am more skilled, I think, at foil than epee, but I am doing quite well at both,” she confirmed.
Foil matches involve points only being scored for “hits” on the torso, but epee scoring can be through contact anywhere, including the face (covered by a mask), hands and feet.
She has 12 competitors around the country and is also internationally ranked, counted as sixth in foil and eighth in epee, with China, Italy and eastern Europe being the other countries that tend to produce the most competitors, she added.
“It’s a very ‘precision’ sport. You have to stay very focused every second while you’re doing it. I really enjoy the mental aspect of it.”
Geddes’ participation dates back to 2014, coming on the heels of her rebound from a 2011 car accident that injured her spinal cord. This month’s travels have her in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates (“about 30-45 minutes from Dubai”).
Much of her traveling is also within an hour’s drive, as she practices with the Augusta Fencing Club, with Rudy Volkman as her coach for two lessons a week. For two other days each week, her competition is largely with able-bodied fencers who sit down and train with her.
“It’s fun to have people sit down, because the able-bodied fencers don’t realize how fast wheelchair fencing is, because you can’t move away from each other, so the blade work is significantly faster.”
Volkman credits Geddes with having an extremely strong work ethic. “If you want to be great, you have to be teachable,” he added. “She’s one of the most teachable athletes I’ve ever had, and she works very hard, and I can’t ask for more.”
Geddes, a 2010 Presbyterian College graduate with a degree in religion, also reflected on another favorite pursuit. “I’ve ridden horses my entire life and I still have horses now, but … I don’t still ride, but I have a friend who rides and I have a facility full of mares, and I breed and produce young horses every year,” she said, noting that her base, Maplewood Farm, covers about 30 acres.
Her passport, she confirmed, has plenty of stamps, including recent ones from Japan (Kyoto), Poland (Warsaw), Italy (Rome) and Georgia (Tbilisi — more than 6,000 miles from Augusta, Atlanta and Columbus). She is also on track to compete in a world-championship event set for 2020 in South Korea, near Seoul.
Her most recent achievement was a first-place finish in the North American Cup, held in Charlotte in early January and featuring top talent from Canada and the U.S.