Lauryn DeLuca after her gold medal win at the Wheelchair Pan Ams.
Lauryn DeLuca with her Rio Paralympic teammate Joey Brinson. Photo Credit: Ginny Boydston
As Team USA prepares for the Rio Games, USA Fencing is sitting down with members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams to ask each 16 questions about their Road to Rio.
In this edition, Rio Paralympian Lauryn DeLuca talked with USA Fencing about qualifying for her first Paralympic Games, transitioning from able-bodied to wheelchair fencing and why she warms up to Hamilton ...
Q1: What does it mean to you to be going to your first Paralympic Games?
It means a lot to me to be going to my first Paralympic Games. I started wheelchair fencing three years ago because I couldn’t compete at the level my able-bodied counterparts were competing at, and it means a lot because I thought I was going to give up fencing when I was like 14 because I wasn’t good. So to see that I was good, it’s aweing to me.
Q2: I know when you qualified, you qualified for the Games the same day you won your first international title (at the Pan Am Championships). What was that day like for you and what were the emotions that went through your head?
So the day was kind of weird. I was undefeated in pools and I had just went through my first DE and won that. My first DE was my biggest competition I think because the lady I was fencing was Sylvie Morel from Canada and, the last time we fenced at Pan Ams, it was me against her in the final and I lost the finals that time around. So, I kind of wanted some payback, but between the semifinal and final, we had to wait six hours, so my sister and I, we read Julius Caesar in our hotel room because we had tests on that at school the next week. So it was a good day, but I had a lot to do still. I had a lot of work to get done for school and fencing.
Q3: In that case, when did it sink in for you?
It didn’t sink in until after finals. I’m very much a student in all regards. I was stressing about schoolwork while I was in San Paulo, but it hit me right after finals because I was just busy with everything.
Q4: How did you fall in love or get started with fencing?
I fell in love with fencing because it’s an individual sport. Even though you have team events, how well you succeed is depending on you. My sisters played volleyball and softball, team sports – you need your teammates to help you get that volley over the net. You need your teammates to catch that pop up. I’m from Cleveland, so if [Cleveland Cavaliers guard] Kyrie [Irving] didn’t make that shot for the final game [of the NBA Finals] and missed that, the whole town of Cleveland would be disappointed in him and his team and town would. I don’t like that pressure on myself. I like knowing that how well I do is because of me, not anyone else.
Q5: Can you give people an idea of how cerebral palsy affects your ability to fence, and your life in general?
Cerebral palsy in general is the tightness of your muscles, or the ability not to use those muscles. For me, cerebral palsy affects half of my body, so my left side is affected. I wear orthotics to make sure my foot is positioned correctly during the day so I don’t trip over my own self and make sure I’m walking normally … My left side, my left arm is weaker, so I can’t really play flute. I can’t move my fingers that well to play those instruments, but how it affected me fencing able-bodied was I would get tired really quickly and I remember going to Nationals for Y14 once. I was training as much as anybody was … and I wasn’t getting the results I needed because my body couldn’t perform at the level these other girls were performing. I wasn’t fast enough; I was getting tired. How it affects me in daily life is that I get tired more. During the school day, I sometimes have to use the elevator to go up and down the floors. I’m just weaker too in general.
Q6: When you switched to wheelchair fencing in 2013 what was the biggest challenge?
I don’t think it was a challenge for me. I was 13, so I could learn things really easily, but I think getting my upper body in condition and the strength I needed to do wheelchair fencing might have been the hardest part of transitioning.
Q7: Do you feel like there was a specific turning point in your fencing career?
I think my [turning point was] switching to wheelchair fencing. I was introduced to it right after London. It was before World Championships for wheelchair fencing the year after London and there was a training camp, so I was with these strangers basically for eight hours a day. That’s what changed my fencing career. It was wonderful.
Q8: What was it about that training camp?
The people on the team. I just love them all so much. Now they’re like my family. They welcomed me with open arms. They still tell stories about that camp, how I beat up on them because they thought I was a new fencer and didn’t know nothing about fencing, but I had four years of fencing underneath my belt, so that surprised them.
Q9: I know you play in the marching band. Do you see any way this relates to your fencing?
I guess how strict it is. My band is a military band, so we’re not like a show band. Our lines are crisp. We don’t do all the dancing some people see. A lot of discipline, how we have to be at attention for five minutes sometimes. For fencing you have to pay attention to everything and be at the grind every day. You can’t ask your coaches or teammates. It’s a lot of discipline.
Q10: Do you have any favorite warm-up music before you fence?
I like to listen to musicals surprisingly. This is kind of funny, I like the musical Urinetown. Funny name. I like Les Mis a lot. I don’t know, I’m a big musical fan.
Q11: What’s your favorite musical?
Oh that changes constantly. Right now, I’ve been listening to Le Mis a lot and I’ve been listening to The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown. And of course Hamilton. I love Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I wrote a paper about him in English the other day, but I love Hamilton. Hamilton is a big thing I listen to before I fence.
Q12: How did you get into musicals?
My sister is in our theater department and I run the soundboard for when we do musicals at our school.
Q13: Do you have any pregame rituals?
Not really. I do wear a necklace my parents gave me when I started my international career. It’s a little epee charm on a golden chain. I always wear that when I fence for tournaments now.
Q14: What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be a biomedical engineer. So biomedical engineering is the building and creating of artificial limbs or organs … I’ve had prosthetics that break a lot and they’re expensive and some insurances don’t cover them, so my goal is to help create a prosthetic that’s durable and cheap.
Q15: What’s it like having a twin sister? Are you super close?
Yeah. So my older sister is 21. She moved out, but we still remain in touch. She’s busy with work and school. My younger sister – well she’s younger by a minute – Olivia and I, we do a lot together. We’re even in the same math class this year because they only had enough kids to run an honors [pre-calculus] class. We’re in band together. I play bass; she plays snare. One funny thing is that I missed a World Cup [at the end of April/beginning of May] last year because we were doing a musical together. She was on stage; I was on sound board. I chose to not do the World Cup and do the musical instead because I can fence, not forever, but for a long time. I can’t remain in high school and do shows or have memories with my sister like that. She would steal a headset because I was upstairs and she was on stage and we would talk to each other on headset and say, ‘Break a leg. Don’t suck.’ I’m glad that I was able to not go to that World Cup and have a memory like that.
Q16: What advice would you give to other young athletes with a disability?
Do everything that you can. There are so many adapted sports that I didn’t even hear of before I started wheelchair fencing. I didn’t even know wheelchair fencing could apply to me. Do research and do whatever you can. Do it all, do it for fun and don’t let your disability get in the way of you being active in life.