We hope you enjoyed our coverage of our sponsored athlete at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Soren Thompson.  Read our wrapup of that coverage here.

Tomorrow, the 2012 London Paralympic Games kick-off and we are sponsoring another fencer, Gerard Moreno, who will be competing in Foil and Saber next week (fencing events take place September 4-8).

We will be blogging about Gerard’s bouts and results when he has fenced, but Gerard was kind enough to let me interview him for a pregame blog before he left for London.  He had just returned home from Warsaw where he competed in the Wheelchair Fencing World Cup competition, so that’s where we started.

How did you do in Warsaw?

The competition in Warsaw was not one of my best in foil, but better in saber.  I came in 18th in foil, coming back from being 8 touches down but could not finish my opponent off. In saber, I came in 11th losing to the Gold Medalist from the last World Cup in Italy.

How long have you been fencing competitively?

I have been fencing in a wheelchair for 20 years. I used to fence before I was injured on my college Epée team for Cal State L.A.

You compete in both Foil and Saber, how does your training differ between them?

Although they are both right-of-way weapons, the training is definitely different. Foil is a tip scoring weapon and the target is a metal lamé. This means a touch is scored only when the tip of the blade is depressed on the metal vest jacket.
In Saber, the whole blade is live and everything above the waist is target. The distance between the fencers is also greater in saber than in foil, also the timing in the scoring box is shorter in saber than in foil.
I train with two different coaches at two different clubs. Misha Itkin for foil at Los Angeles International Fencing Center and Daniel Costin at Avant Garde. The strategy and tactics differ for each weapon and each of my coaches are well renowned in their area of expertise.

Do you compete in team events as well as individually and how is team competition different from individual competition?

I do compete in team events and competing on a team is great fun and high energy. The team event is to 45 touches and each of the 3 member team has three 5 touch bouts. The score can change drastically from bout to bout and usually the strongest member of each opposing team closes the bout. It is a fantastic experience to be part of and very satisfying to win on a team level.

The best team competition I have been part of was at the Paralympic Games in Sydney against Kuwait to get into the finals in saber. I was the anchor for the team (last bout) and we were down by 7 touches going into the bout 40 to 33. We both scored 4 on each other and the score was 44 to 37. I was in the zone and the crowd was going nuts as the whole venue was watching the bout to see who would enter the finals. I came from behind to score 8 consecutive touches for the team and we won the match. The crowd and my team went crazy, it was one of my best experiences fencing.

That sounds so exciting!  You won a Silver Medal at Nationals this year.  Can you tell us about it?

It was difficult for me as my mother had just passed away a few months before. I was not in my best form and lost in both foil and saber by a few touches. It was the first time I had lost to another class B fencer in many years. This is a sport that is unforgiving as far as training. The fencers that won the Gold very talented and were on their game.

A Silver Medal is an incredible accomplishment, especially at a stressful time in your personal life. What do you do to get into the right frame of mind for big competitions?

I try and get into a meditative state with music, my breathing, concentration and focus. This is paramount to getting into the zone. Being unemotional is critical in keeping sole focus on each touch. There are so many distractions that can take away your concentration and disrupt your thinking that you cannot afford to lose that state of mind. It’s called being in the zone and it is very difficult to achieve.

How much does international travel affect your preparations and performance?

International travelling is very hard in general, but to compete at your best is extremely difficult. I try and hydrate as much as possible and get enough sleep and good nutrition. I try and acclimate to the new time zone immediately by falling into the proper sleep and waking times. Usually for Europe there is a 9 hour difference, so getting sleep on the plane helps. Jet lag does affect my performance, but I try and minimize the effect by being in good condition and mentally strong.

What was the World Cup competition in Warsaw like?  Was it very different from competing in the US?

The competition was at a very high level, since this was the last World Cup before the Paralympics. There were over 18 different countries there and over 100 wheelchair fencers from all over the world. This competition is also a factor in determining seeding for the pool rounds at the Paralympics.

Warsaw is one of my favorite World Cups. The venue and hotel are in the same location and the competition is well run. 10 years ago I won my first Bronze medal in Warsaw in saber and maybe that is why I have a special place in my heart for this competition. Competitions in the US are not attended by other countries and the level of competition is not as great.

Have you changed anything about your training or preparation for the Paralympics in particular?

I am very much looking forward to London and have stepped up my training and conditioning. I am fencing 4 times a week and cross training with my hand cycle and free weights. I am on a healthy diet and sleep schedule and am preparing mentally for the games. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype, but I try and look at it as inspiration for being on the podium. It is my dream to be a Paralympic medalist, preferably Gold. I keep this vision in my mind and simulate the feeling. I firmly believe that the mind creates and manifests thoughts, ideas and goals and the subconscious never stops trying to get there once you have decided the destination.

Since this is your 3rd Paralympic Games, how is this one different?

This Paralympics may be my last and I am looking forward to going out with my best effort. I am relaxed this time around because I know what to expect. I try and not let the pressure affect me because that does not help my cause. I am ranked high in the US, but in the world ranking I am 13th in both saber and foil. This does not mean anything because I feel I can compete and have competed at the same level as the very best, in some cases beating the best in the world in pool rounds.
I have the ability and talent to be the champion and, in a combat sport, anything is possible. My mind is set and my body is in top condition. Execution, strategy and tactics will be the critical elements in my success.

What is it like to be a world-class athlete?

I have loved every moment of fencing–the good and the bad. One would not appreciate the one without the other. I have had a great career and am looking for the grand finale to be spectacular. There is a large sacrifice that is made to compete at this level in dedication, time and money. My experiences have been incredible and the friends and relationships I have made have been priceless.

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be where I am and am humbled when I look back at my wonderful life as a fencer. One of my favorite sayings is “It’s the journey not the destination.”

Thank you so much, Gerard, for talking to me about your experiences!

I love that Gerard gets so much satisfaction from competing with a team and that visualization is such an important part of his process.  This quote definitely resonates with me and I hope with all creatives: “the mind creates and manifests thoughts, ideas and goals and the subconscious never stops trying to get there once you have decided the destination.”

Artisan Creative wishes you all the best in your Paralympic competition, Gerard, for both the journey and the destination–Gold!

Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative