Paralympian Spotlight Terry Hayes

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on April 14, 2022 # Lifestyle

I met Terry Hayes in 2018 at my first of many wheelchair fencing competitions – a North American Cup. Getting to know her at that competition, at several training camps in Colorado, and many NACs after, she holds a spot as the most genuine, fun person to fence against. Amid the competitive nature and seriousness of such a high-level competition, how does she do that? Terry has a grip on her why.

Terry smiles at me before she puts her fencing mask on, we click our swords to salute each other before the fight, and she’ll shout something like, “Let’s have some fun!” or “This is gonna be great!” before flipping down her mask slicing at my [very well-padded] upper body with her weapon. At the end of the bout, when she takes her mask back off, she’s still smiling. And I can’t help but do the same.

Her enthusiasm before our fight reminds me of my why, which is to have fun. My why is the same as hers – the fun – but the competitive nature of the sport can sometimes scoop me up and make me lose sight.

Last August, Terry earned a spot on Team USA for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. At 63 years old, she was the oldest of both the Olympians and Paralympians to represent the USA.

Q: When did you start fencing, and what got you interested in it?

A: After I got out of the hospital and rehab for a broken hip and femur, I was looking for something physical, and a sense of community. So, I went to a Women in Wheelchair sports camp in Colorado. I tried a bunch of sports at camp, and I loved all of them. When I got home, I went online to find a sport for me, and I found parafencing. I started fencing in 2017.

Q: Which part of the sport do you love most? What is your why?

A: I started fencing because I was looking for something to keep me in shape, but I love it because it’s so much fun. It just is. Even when I lose and take my mask off, I’m still smiling because I had fun.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to go to the Paralympics?

A: I’ve always loved the Olympics. When I was a little kid, me and my sister used to set up two trashcans and a broom and jump over them – like the Olympic High Jump. We hopped that broom hundreds of times. Every time the Olympics were on TV, I watched; I bought all the Olympic magazines; and I always thought, “what a wonderful thing to do.”

Then, when I started fencing, my Sabre coach Brent Myers suggested that I try for a spot on the US Paralympic Team. I laughed at him. He kept encouraging me to get on the World Cup circuit, though, so I did. My first World Cup was in Tbilisi, Georgia, and from there, I started climbing the ranks. In 2019, I earned slots to compete in Women’s individual Sabre (category B), Women’s individual epee (category B), Women’s Team Foil, and Women’s Team Epee. For a long time, I couldn’t believe that I actually qualified for the Paralympics. It has been my dream since I was a kid.

Q: Is there an experience that was most memorable?

A: Rolling out of the tunnel at the Opening Ceremony in my uniform, tailored for me, they announced, “The United States of America." It was such a huge experience.

Q: Do you have plans to continue fencing? Another Olympics in Paris 2024?

A: I’ll definitely keep fencing, but how long I fence will depend on my physical condition. I’ll be competing in all three weapons at the North American Cup this April. I was the oldest Paralympian to represent the USA at 63 years old. Another Paralympic team would really be wonderful! I’m doing everything I can, every day, to keep myself in good physical condition to keep fencing and enjoying life.

Our lives are so precious, and we don’t have time to do everything. Competing in the Paralympics is a pretty cool thing to do, though. We can all use Terry’s story as an example that, for the things you do choose to spend your time on, don’t lose sight of your why. Then, as she would say, let’s have some fun! This is gonna be great!

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of two books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.