Millcreek local Shelby Jensen heads to ParalympicsAug 18, 2021 01:49PM ● By Daniel Olsen
After trying several sports in her youth, Shelby Jensen finally found her niche at fencing where she could compete at the highest level. (Photo courtesy Shelby Jensen)
By Daniel Olsen | [email protected]
At just 20 years of age, Shelby Jensen will be one of the younger athletes competing at the Tokyo Paralympic Games next month. Jensen competes in para-fencing which is like fencing except done in wheelchairs. After several hours per day of practice over the last few years, the hard work has finally paid off. The Millcreek native has competed at national and even international levels, but this will be her first time in the Paralympics.
After trying several sports in her youth, Jensen finally found her niche at this sport where she could compete at the highest level. It has become her greatest passion for several reasons.
“I can hit people and not get yelled at,” Jensen said. “It’s a mental game. It gives you an adrenaline rush. No one else matters because you are only focused solely on your opponent. You have to think two or three steps ahead of what your opponent is thinking. You have to predict your opponent’s next move. You can be as buff as a bodybuilder, but the mental game is where it’s at.”
Due to COVID restrictions, her trainer (Brandon Smith) cannot go to Tokyo to attend the games. Instead, the one para-fencing coach for Team USA will be there to give instructions to her and the other para-fencers. Smith works with her on a regular basis at Valkyrie Fencing. The club has several locations along the Wasatch Front. Jensen is one of the most talented fencers that Smith has coached.
“She has these moments where it all connects and she tunes in,” Smith said. “That makes her actions really easy. She still has a lot of development to work on to untap her full ability. Her drive is great and she’s still developing that. Sometimes we have to slow it down because she wants to go fast. We need to practice techniques slowly, and then speed it up. If you have a bad action then you’ll get bad results. Full force isn't the best strategy in this sport.”
With no spectators allowed, this will be a Paralympics unlike any other.
“I want her to go out and do what she knows best and enjoy herself,” Smith said. “This will be a different Olympics. It will be quiet enough that she will probably hear the other coach talking. It’s a different scenario. It’s a unique experience for sure. She will enjoy it. Mickey, the Team USA coach, will be on her side in Tokyo. I will be able to call in if they are struggling to communicate. Sometimes I need to be quiet and let her figure it out. Training is how you’ll perform.”
To even make the Paralympics is a marvelous feat in its own right. Even if Jensen does not medal, she will represent the state of Utah well.
“I’m excited for Tokyo,” Jensen said. “I want to do my best. Medals don’t really matter as long as I do my best to make my country proud.”
Jensen and the rest of Team USA will have their work cut out for them. While they are usually a perennial favorite, China and Russia have strong teams. Japan, the host country, is also strong. Korea has amazing footwork.
For 13 years, Jensen has had to get used to having a disability that has completely changed her life.
“I had a stroke when I was seven,” Jensen said. “It was caused by a brain aneurysm. When they went to clip off the blood clot, another stroke paralyzed my right side. I now have right-side hemiparesis.”
While it might be easy for many to give up on achieving greatness after a traumatic moment like this, that was not in the cards for Jensen.
“After that, my parents put me into sports,” Jensen said. “Sports are the best kind of rehab. I am around other like-minded people. People share their mental and physical accomplishments.”
This isn’t the first time around the global para-fencing scene for Jensen. Several trials and experiences have prepared her for this month.
“I once fenced with my friend in Dubai for the U23 Junior World Championships in February 2019,” Jensen said. “She is from Amsterdam but fences for Turkey. I got a bronze medal. It was the best feeling knowing I won an international medal against another country.”
When explaining how she got to this point, Jensen made it clear that one can’t be expected to be a great fencer overnight.
“I train five days a week for three to four hours a day at the club I go to,” Jensen said. “When home I’m also working out and hitting a dummy for several hours. I watch videos of my opponents and how they fence.”
Fencing was not a sport that Jensen knew much about early on. She had to discover her passion.
“I was first introduced to it at a wheelchair sports camp,” Jensen said. “I liked the aspect of a one-on-one sport with my opponent. I tried other sports before fencing. Once I found fencing, I found a niche. There are also team events. I like individual events more but with team events you can face a different team or country.”
Jensen was not hesitant to encourage other young athletes to try the sport of fencing.
“Try it,” Jensen said. “You’ll never know if you like it until you try it. Everyone should try it once.”
Jensen leaves for Tokyo on Aug. 17. Her events happen Aug. 24-28. No streaming options have been announced, but fans can follow her progress on paralympic.org