The Healing Power of Adaptive Sports: Ellen Geddes’ Story
As former Shepherd Center patient and parafencing medalist Ellen Geddes trains to qualify for the 2024 Paralympics, she shares how adaptive sports helped her adjust to life after injury and go for the gold.
When Ellen Geddes arrived at Shepherd Center in 2011 as a patient in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, she had no idea that when she left, she would be on the path to the Paralympics.
“I was at Shepherd Center as an inpatient, and I was in the gym during Shepherd’s adaptive fencing practice when the captain asked me if I was interested in trying it out,” Ellen explains. “I tried basketball but was afraid of the ball. I also tried skeet shooting, but it wasn’t stimulating to me. Fencing was the one that stuck.”
Athletic endeavors weren’t new to Ellen. Before her injury, she competed in the equestrian sports eventing and dressage.
After Ellen graduated from the inpatient program and transitioned to Shepherd Center’s outpatient Day Program, she began traveling from her home in Aiken, South Carolina, to Shepherd Center every Saturday for fencing practice. Her hard work paid off, and she was able to attend her first World Cup for adaptive fencing just two years after her injury.
“It was a little like being thrown to the wolves,” Ellen laughs. “But the fact that Shepherd provides support for sports, outside of success and medals, is a great benefit to people learning how to exist post-injury, and that support was why I was able to stick with it and make it to my first World Cup in Montreal.”
From then on, Ellen continued to train hard and compete, winning four bronze and two silver World Cup medals.
“I’m really proud of those medals,” she explains. “The Americas Paralympic team had not won a World Cup medal in fencing since 2014, so six World Cup medals are a big deal. We also won a Zonal Championship, which includes the Americas and Africa.”
In addition to her accomplishments in World Cup competitions, Ellen ranked third in the world on the Paralympic ranking list for foil, a lightweight, flexible weapon in which points are earned by touching an opponent’s torso, after competing in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
“Shepherd Center essentially helped get me to the Paralympics,” she says. “Their support leading up to the Paralympics and chasing all the points we needed in all the World Cups before then was invaluable.”
While Ellen has been successful in her athletic career, she is still working to overcome the anxiety that comes with competition.
“Focus on the process instead of the outcome,” she advises. “And if you want to try a sport and be good at it, be prepared to fail and lose first. Keep grinding it out because you’re not going to be good when you start. That was always a big thought process for me. Don’t give up because you’re not good in the beginning.”
As Ellen continues in her pursuit to qualify for the 2024 Paralympics in Paris, she reflects on her career as an athlete and the effect the para-athletic community has had on her.
“The ability to continue to compete in athletics, have access to adaptive sports, and have people I could communicate with was really helpful to transition to life with a spinal cord injury,” she explains. “It was useful community building with people who have similar goals and experiences in a way that I think being in a nonathletic community would not have been for me. With so many teams at Shepherd, you can try all the options and find a community and what you’re good at. We’re fortunate to have that access.”
Written by Lindsey Rieben
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.