RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – If Matthieu Hébert had one wish it’s to have discovered wheelchair fencing much earlier.
Hébert finished 10th in men’s individual épée – category A on Tuesday, an impressive feat considering he had competed in the able-body version of the sport for so much longer.
The 48-year-old only learned of the wheelchair competition three years ago after meeting national fencing coach Iulian Badea.
“If I had known [about wheelchair fencing] 20, 30 years ago, I would have done more of that as a youngster, I would have been very fast,” said Hébert, with a chuckle, following his elimination in the event. “I was not moving very well so they were fast to attack me and they could hit me rather easily unfortunately.”
One of Hébert’s legs is shorter than the other due to an injury he suffered at age 13, forcing him to give up fencing for 30 years because of the physical pain. The retirement was only temporary as four years ago the husband and father of three had a surgery that enabled him to return to the piste.
Hébert says with the pain gone, it clicked that “hey, I can do fencing again.” The epeeist took home consecutive third-place finishes at the 2015 and 2016 America’s Cup.
He was hoping for a better performance than he had here, but regardless, the Beauharnois, Que. resident still thoroughly enjoyed his first Paralympic Games.
It was an experience made possible by the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to suspend Russian athletes because of the nation’s failure to comply with the IPC and World Anti-Doping Agency’s drug policies.
“When we started to talk about the Russian delegation being excluded from the Games I was like ‘Hmm, I have a chance,’ ” said Hébert. “When I finally received the email, it was Christmas in August.
“Being with [the 11 other competitors] was an honour, Brazil was very good. I finished 10th, I increased my ranking in this group, so I’m happy. I would’ve loved to make top 8, but maybe in Tokyo.”